Here is an example from the HP books:

"Come to think of it, he wasn't even sure his nephew was called Harry. He'd never even seen the boy. It might have been Harvey. Or Harold."

I think it enough to say "It might be Harvey. Or Harold." to report the character's thoughts here. Is it necessary to use the perfect?


  • "Have been Harvey" is present perfect, not past perfect (your pluperfect).
    – BillJ
    Feb 21, 2020 at 7:46
  • 1
    Is is necessary to use the perfect? Feb 21, 2020 at 7:50
  • 1
    Yes, I think so in this case. The whole narrative describes a past situation.
    – BillJ
    Feb 21, 2020 at 8:17
  • However, this thought with no doubt belonged to the character, rather than the author.There are also examples in this book which reported thoughts using indirect speech without the perfect form such as: "Was he imagining things? Could all this have anything to do with the Potters?" Feb 21, 2020 at 9:20
  • That's HP for you!
    – BillJ
    Feb 21, 2020 at 10:09

1 Answer 1


In your case - yes, if you want to keep the narrative in past tense. The correct way to use might in a sentence referring to the past is might have + perfect - there is no Past Simple form in modern English.

Now, you don't necessarily have to use past tense here. There are two ways a narrator can typically express a character's thoughts:

  • an indirect way, where they narrate, or describe a character's thoughts. This follows the narrative's tense, and it's what all your examples from Harry Potter use:

Alice opened the door and saw Bob and Eve in bed. She couldn't believe it. Was she dreaming? Did Bob really cheat on her with her sister?

  • a more direct way, where the narrator quotes the character's thoughts as-is, which would typically be in present tense. As quotations, rather than parts of narrative, those will typically be typeset with quotes or - more commonly I think - italics:

Alice opened the door and saw Bob and Eve in bed. I can't believe it, she thought. Am I dreaming? Is Bob really cheating on me with my sister?

J.K. Rowling's stylistic choice is the former, and your examples are consistent with it.

  • Thanks a lot. But according to your answer, "It might be Harvey. Or Harold." is a perfect example of the indirect way. Why is it still necessary to use the perfect form? Feb 21, 2020 at 10:06
  • @Paddington "It might be Harvey" is Present Simple. As such it doesn't match the past tense of the narration. Feb 21, 2020 at 10:10
  • I think "He thought it might be Harvey." is grammatically correct. Or the meaning "It was probably Harvey." was actually the author's words, other than the character's thought? Feb 21, 2020 at 13:18

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