Let’s say I know my friend has broken up with his girlfriend. I don’t know when, but I know he has. I want to know whether or not he’s given her brother an explanation. What should I ask?

Have you explained to him why you broke up with his sister?

Have you explained to him why you have broken up with his sister?

Have you explained to him why you had broken up with his sister?

My gut tells me it’s the last one, but the more I think about it, the more confused I get. I think I should use “had broken up”, because the breakup had occurred before my friend would’ve had a chance to tell his girlfriend’s brother about it. Is it important in this particular case? have broken up also seems ok-ish to me, but I think I should use past perfect to show the correct order of what’s happened. broke up seems completely wrong as I don’t know when they broke up.

  • All these uses are fine. And I suggest you review the uses of the simple past, present perfect and past perfect. You are supposed to show your research or thoughts. Otherwise, we are doing the work for you instead of just clarifying it.
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 21:50

1 Answer 1


All three are fine. In particular you don't need to know exactly when something happened to use the past tense, only that it was in the past.

The present perfect is possible, but it slightly changes the meaning. Since it is talking about the present state it asks for the reason that you broke up, and haven't got back together again. It's a subtle difference but for this reason I probably wouldn't use the present perfect. However it is correct, and natural.

The past perfect is possible, but without more context there is no need for it. It also adds that sense of "broke up and remained broken up until some point in time" which is not really part of the question.

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