Marissa did not realize that she _______ at work until she _____ home.

a) forgot the keys / was getting

b) had forgotten the keys / got

c) has forgotten the keys / gets

d) forgot the keys / got

The authors of this question provided an Answer Keys with only one possible correct choice.

Since I have quite a lot of experience with time interval in the different parts of grammar, I honestly see this as a multiple-choice question with multiple correct answers, and little difference in meaning between them.

While all the options except for c) are grammatically correct, we simply cannot choose only one option.

Which option would you choose? and WHY?

Taken from An English Test

2 Answers 2



Why? Notice the earlier word did. The sentence is constructed in the past tense. Since the most recent event in the sentence was Marissa getting home, and we are writing in the past tense, we use got.

Since we know that she forgot her keys before arriving at her home, we need to make that clear by using the perfect past. Now we have our answer.

Marissa did not realize that she had forgotten the keys at work until she got home.

Hope this helps!

  • You want to say that the order of events is not clear and unnatural, so we must use the past perfect tense. Right?
    – Alex TheBN
    May 19, 2020 at 0:12
  • @AlexRaw The act of forgetting should be past perfect because it is clear that Marissa forgets her keys before she realizes that she forgot them, and both events are completed actions. This is why (a), (c), and (d) are incorrect. As Micah points out, the order of events is important.
    – Kman3
    May 19, 2020 at 2:22

The correct answer is "There is no single correct answer that can be supported by an English grammar rule."

I think the answer given by Micah Windsor and the comments that follow fail to address the central problem, and the one that Alex Raw seems to be concerned about, though he might have made it more explicit: what grammatical rule will allow you to choose the one 'correct' answer when there are 3 answers that are grammatically correct.

I'm also a native speaker, and none of the answers except c) are unclear or unnatural to me, and none are ungrammatical. I've helped other ELL/ESLs try to understand poorly constructed questions. It's a significant issue because the test score is meaningful for their advancement and placement but the answer is ambiguous.

In this case, every answer except c) is grammatically correct, and nobody has offered any grammatical rule to eliminate or choose any of them. Most people here are probably not linguistic scholars, but objective answers require a supporting authority beyond what the writer may consider logical and reasonable if we are to truly aid English Language Learners.

English is neither logical nor reasonable, and calling the poster's motives into question is not an appropriate response. The guidelines we operate under here always require respect for the original author.

  • 2
    You dismissed (c) as being grammatically incorrect without an explanation, and then proceeded to say that no one has offered any grammatical rule to eliminate any of the answers. Why is (c) grammatically incorrect? You may find that the logic with which you eliminate (c) as an answer is also the logic with which you can eliminate several other answers.
    – Kman3
    May 19, 2020 at 17:58
  • @ Micah Windsor - I'm sorry you've taken this stance Micah - now you're being intentionally rude to me. I don't claim to be a scholar, and if you interpret my style of communicating as overly pedantic I can only say I'm regret that it offends you. Certainly it wasn't my intention - it's the way I've always written. But I am trying to be a pedant, in the sense of teaching. And I absolutely believe that questioning the motives of a non-native speaker when they disagree with or misunderstand your answer is not showing respect for their efforts to learn. I'll answer your question elsewhere. May 20, 2020 at 15:55
  • @Kman3 - and Micah as well - I thought we agreed c) was wrong because it is a direct contradiction in tense: 'Did' is past tense while 'has forgotten' is the present perfect. 'Get' is simple present. But the same is not true of the other examples. a) 'did not realize = past [in all examples]; 'forgot = past; 'was getting' = past progressive. b) 'had forgotten' = past perfect; 'got' = past. d) 'forgot' = past; 'got' = past. No tense contradictions. May 20, 2020 at 16:40
  • @Kman3 and Micah continued. And no time interval contradictions. a) She realized (past) that something happened in the past (she forgot) when something else happened in the past (was getting home). b) She realized (past) that something had happened in the past (she forgot) when something else happened in the past (got home). d) She realized (past) that something happened in the past (she forgot) when something else happened in the past (got home). May 20, 2020 at 16:53
  • 1
    Allow me to expand upon what @MicahWindsor is saying. For both (a) and (d), the action of realizing and the action in its object clause forgetting are both in the same (perfect) tense. This means that both actions happen in the same frame of time, which is impossible. One must forget something before they realize that they forgot it. This is why the past perfect (had forgotten) must be used: to indicate that the forgetting happened, then it was completed, then the realizing happened. This is why (b) is the correct answer.
    – Kman3
    May 20, 2020 at 18:46

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