Let's say that I have just experieced a sharp pain and want to say that this is the worst pain by now. Do I say

I have never experienced such a pain before


I had never experienced such a pain before?

I think that should use the present perfect because the pain have just happened. But my native English speking friend says that either can actually be used. I am curious to know what other native English speakers have to say about that. He also said that if it were yesterday it definetly has to be the past perfect. For example:

I had a terrible pain yesterday. I had never experieced anything like that before.

Could the present perfect be used in this sentence?

  • If you have "just experienced a sharp pain" then the first sentence is correct.The second second is incorrect for that, but would be correct when describing a previous event. Jan 20, 2020 at 18:50
  • I think you already know the answer to this. PP can always be used after SP. It all depends on what you want to say. Also, "I had never experienced such a pain before [that accident which happened at some earlier point in time]*? implies something happened first.
    – Lambie
    Jan 20, 2020 at 18:50
  • Is my third sentence correct? Jan 20, 2020 at 20:27
  • Can the present perfect be used in my third sentence? If not, tell me please why. Jan 20, 2020 at 20:33
  • Yes, Yes, Yes. I just told you why. It is preceded by "I had a terrible pain yesterday". The past perfect does not have to be in the same sentence!
    – Lambie
    Jan 20, 2020 at 20:57

3 Answers 3


Although I'm not a native speaker, here's my take:

A) Yes, both can be used. If you choose Present Perfect, you're talking about an experience you had in your life - that's it. If you choose Past Perfect, you're also talking about an experience in your life, but with a specific moment in time (in the past).

B) No, Present Perfect can't be used in this case, because (as said in (A)) you're mentioning a specific moment in the past.

  • The PP implies a previous event that occurred at a specific time that would take the SP. The third sentence is fine.
    – Lambie
    Jan 20, 2020 at 19:33
  • PP - Present Perfect, or PP - Past Perfect? Jan 20, 2020 at 19:56
  • The Past Perfect etc.
    – Lambie
    Jan 20, 2020 at 20:14
  • Yes, but it is clear from the context that the point in time is now. Jan 20, 2020 at 20:34
  • I am sorry, but I am confused Jan 20, 2020 at 20:34

If you say " I have never experienced a pain like that before", you are speaking from the present. You have never felt such a pain before in your life, before this present moment. If you use "I had never felt such a pain before" you are talking about the pain you felt yesterday, which is now the past and you had never felt such a pain before that past moment yesterday. So, you use present perfect for the now and past perfect for the past. You can't change sentence 3 into present perfect, in my opinion.

  • You can if you sort of put yourself in yesterday's shoes, or you're still under the impression that just talking about the event makes it feel like you're experiencing it all over again. Something like the historical present.
    – user3395
    Jan 21, 2020 at 0:22

This question is very simple, as regards speech:

I have never experienced such a pain before. [Ok,past, non-specific]


1) I had never experienced such a pain before.

[Ok in a specific conversation or context, like the one below. It presupposes a conversation where the simple past event is implied or mentioned. The event is not provided here by the OP.)]

There is no rule that states you can't use the past perfect as the sole verb. However, when it is the sole verb, it implies some other event occurred before it. And the speakers are aware of it OR the event is mentioned earlier in a written text.

2) I had a terrible pain yesterday. I had never experienced anything like that before.

Remember the timeline, taken from the website of Tony Hartley. http://tonyeosenglish.weebly.com/

Tony Hartley's

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