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  1. What is the difference between the following two sentences?
  2. Are they interchangeable in formal writing?

Although the following two sentences may mean the same thing, I would like to know which is more grammatically correct. I think they are both grammatically correct but perhaps someone could shine some light.

  1. The system has old records that have not been deleted.
  2. The system has old records that are not deleted.
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    The second sentence has the alternative reading (possibly even the default reading) 'The system has old records that are deliberately retained.' – Edwin Ashworth Jan 13 at 15:31
  • There is a major grammatical difference between the two sentences. The difference is not explained [factual] versus the difference has not been explained [by someone] – Lambie Jul 19 at 17:38
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I do not think that without the inclusion of the word, being, the latter makes sense. The former is grammatical and has prevalent usage. The latter would have to be rephrased as:

The system has old records that are not [being] deleted.

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  • I am not looking for what you think. I need a link to a trusted source to prove your point. Also, when you say "I do not think...the latter doesn't make sense", you are actually saying it makes sense. – CodingYoshi Jan 13 at 15:50
  • Also, why do you think the sentence needs "being"? Do you have any source so I can read more about it? To me, it totally changes the meaning of the sentence. With "being" added, it means the action is still in motion. – CodingYoshi Jan 13 at 16:35
  • I can understand this. Usually, some systems can automatically delete old files. Ergo, this system has old files that are not being deleted. You can't prove intended meaning, by the way. You can only suggest it, which is exactly what Noarman Ali has done1 – Lambie Jul 19 at 17:47
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  1. What is the difference between the following two sentences?

In everyday usage, there is no difference between the 2 sentences. However, there is a very subtle difference between the two--more on this later.

  1. Are they interchangeable in formal writing?

Again, in everyday writing they may be interchangeable but I am not sure about formal writing. You may decide for yourself based on the subtle difference I have arrived at below.

Subtle Difference

The main source of confusion in the two sentences is the fact that they are both written in Passive Voice. In order to understand the subtle difference and help us explain the difference easily, let's change the sentences to their Active Voice

Passive Voice (1st sentence): The system has old records that have not been deleted.
Active Voice (2nd sentence): The system has old records that Bob has not deleted.
Passive Voice (1st sentence): The system has old records that are not deleted.
Active Voice (2nd sentence): The system has old records that Bob did not delete.

Now let's further simplify the sentences to subject, verb, object and remove the extra information as below:

Bob has not deleted the records.
Bob did not delete the records.

Now that we have the sentences in a simple and active form, we can apply the reasoning as documented on Merriam-Webster. According to that source

Use the simple past when the action started in the past, finished in the past, and is not continuing now. Use the present perfect when the action started in the past and is continuing now.

Now applying the reasoning above to our sentences, below is the subtle difference:

"Bob has not deleted the records." means that Bob did neither start the act of deletion in the past nor is he continuing deletion right now. In other words if he did not start, he could not possibly continue.

"Bob did not delete the records." means that Bob did neither start the act of deletion in the past nor finished deletion in the past. In other words if he did not start in the past, he could not possibly finish in the past.

The cited source indicates we should try to state time when a sentence is in the simple past tense.

The simple past tells us that an action happened at a certain time in the past, and is not continuing anymore. It doesn't tell us anything about when an action happened, so more information needs to be given with this verb form, such as when the action took place.

Therefore, we may want to restructure the sentence like this:

Bob did not delete the records as of 9:00 AM today.

And finally,

The system has old records that are not deleted as of 9:00 AM today.
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  • Bob has not deleted the records as of 9:00 am today. VERSUS The system has old, undeleted files as of 9:00 am today. Past perfect is better because it's the past as of the present "time of speaking". – Lambie Jul 19 at 17:52
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that are not deleted = undeleted

records that are not deleted = semantically, undeleted records

food that is not eaten = uneaten food
cards that are not played = unplayed cards
people who are not seen = unseen people

  • The system has old, undeleted records.

undelete is a computing term.

That is not a passive construction. It is adjectival.

VERSUS

The system has old records that have not been deleted [by some person or system]= a passive construction

I deleted the records. ACTIVE VOICE, Simple Past

The records were deleted by me [yesterday, at some point in the past, such as yesterday, last week, or last year or on August 25th]. PASSIVE VOICE, Simple past

The records have been deleted by be. PASSIVE VOICE, present perfect, in the past at a time or point that is not identified or is irrelevant at the "moment of speaking in the present".

So, no, the sentences have different information and foci.

One is adjectival and descriptive and the other states a fact about the past without specifying when in relation to the present.

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