A person had died years ago. How do we say ‘has’ to him now? Say -

Tom died 15 years ago. He has or had 3 sons?

I know it’s ‘has’. But somehow ‘has’ to me sounds that he is alive. Even further, if I use ‘had’ it may mean that the sons are dead.


Ben, who died 14 years ago, has received a notice.

The notice is received today.

Is there anyway to avoid the conflict of ‘has’ with existence?

  • When did Ben receive this notice? Did it arrive just now, despite the fact that he is dead, or did it arrive when he was alive? Jan 3, 2020 at 17:19
  • 1
    I think your underlying assumption is wrong. It should be "had." You can also say "he left behind 3 sons" or "he is survived by 3 sons" depending on the current status of the sons (whether or not the sons are still alive).
    – TypeIA
    Jan 3, 2020 at 17:20
  • @typelA he has three sons is incorrect? In the context defined?
    – Maulik V
    Jan 3, 2020 at 17:33
  • 1
    Yes, to me using a present-tense verb like "has" for a deceased person sounds very wrong. In fact this setup is a common trope in TV shows and films, when characters have to constantly correct themselves and switch to past-tense verbs when a person has recently died.
    – TypeIA
    Jan 3, 2020 at 17:46
  • 2
    Richard III has been in the news lately, since they found his remains under a Leicester car park. Obviously it's easier to imagine dead people being in the news than dead people "receiving" notices - the closer you get to "actions that require living / conscious agency to perform", the less idiomatic it is to refer to them using Present (or Present Perfect) if they're dead. We normally refer to children the deceased had, not has, regardless of whether the children are still alive. Jan 3, 2020 at 17:53

1 Answer 1


Tom died 15 years ago. He has 3 sons.

Even though Tom has passed on, Tom still exists in this sentence and in at least the memories of his sons. Use of has is appropriate.

Tom died 15 years ago. He had 3 sons.

This sounds like his 3 sons are no longer alive or so distant that their status is unknown (i.e. you haven't seen the sons in 15 years and don't know if they are really alive.)

  • 2
    I'm not so sure about this. Can you cite examples? It sounds quite wrong to me, regardless of the current status of the sons (though the ambiguity that you mention there is valid).
    – TypeIA
    Jan 3, 2020 at 17:54

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