When I was reading, I encountered 2 sentences like these:

  1. I went to his house last night, because I thought he might have the information I needed.
  2. He thought the book might help him move on from the past.

In the first sentence, why didn't the writer use "I thought he might have had the information", and in the second sentence why not "might have been able to help", since they're both talking about past events?

I am a little confused here. Your useful answers are greatly appreciated.

1 Answer 1


You have confused the simple past with the past perfect. Might is already the simple past tense of may, and thus it agrees with the beginning of the first sentence, which uses the simple past went.

If you wanted to use might have had in the second part, you would need to change the first part to a past perfect as well:

I had gone to his house that night, because I (had) thought he might have (had) the information I needed.

In this sentence, however, you can actually drop the subsequent hads because the first clause has already established the timeframe. To me, the most natural phrasing would be

I had gone to his house that night, because I thought he might have the information I needed.

Also, needed could become need if you still need the information at the moment of speaking.

The second sentence is similar.

  • Thx for answering, m enlightened. But i still have a further question. i thought that the have + past participle here doesn't have a perfect meaning, and in addition to that, i was taught that 'might have been' speaks of something in the past. Could you please kindly provide further explanation? Thank you for answering. Jun 4, 2020 at 6:00
  • In a strictly grammatical sense, might is the past tense of may. But as English has evolved, we've ended up with slightly different rules for sentences and for indirect quotations. So, He thought there might be another door. refers to the the past tense, whereas There might be another door. refers to the present. We could even combine the present-tense might with a past-tense thinks: He thinks there might be another door. Inside an indirect quotation, like "He thought _____," might is enough to satisfy the rule that the tenses should match.
    – Max
    Jun 4, 2020 at 6:22
  • And whether or not it's part of an indirect quotation, have + past participle does have a perfect meaning: Have you eaten? asks if you have completed eating. You are correct about might have been ___ing referring to the past, but note that that form doesn't appear in any of these examples.
    – Max
    Jun 4, 2020 at 6:26
  • This makes me a little more confused. Because sometimes we do use expressions like 'Deb was worried and thought she might have been pregnant." when describing past events. What's the difference? Is there a subtext to this sentence, which is that Deb had already been pregnant before she felt worried? Thx for ur patience n further explanation. Jun 4, 2020 at 6:39
  • To my ears, Deb was worried and thought she might have been pregnant. is an unlikely sentence. It means it's September now, and we are talking about a moment in June at which something made Deb think that she had been pregnant in April-May but wasn't pregnant anymore. In other words, Deb was worried in June: She hadn't thought that in April that she was pregnant, but now it looked like a pregnancy had ended in May (she had miscarried), meaning that she had been pregnant in April but didn't realize.
    – Max
    Jun 4, 2020 at 7:09

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