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1). Something has happened in the past twenty years that surely must transcend anything that has happened before.

2). Something has happened in the past twenty years that surely must transcend anything that had happened before.

Which one is correct ? If both are correct, what is the difference in meaning between these two sentences?

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  • Be consistent, you're comparing what has happened [just now] with what has happened [before / up until now]. That's to say the current "narrative reference time" is now [time of utterance]. – FumbleFingers Sep 13 '20 at 11:45
  • (She has eaten before he had eaten is a syntactically invalid mixture of tenses.) – FumbleFingers Sep 13 '20 at 13:09
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For me, neither sentence reads very well. Personally, I would not use either.

If the intention is to compare the "something" with things that happened before 20 years ago, then I would not use either:

  • Something has happened in the past twenty years that surely must transcend anything that happened before.

If the intention is to compare the "something" with other things that happened in the past twenty years, then I would use:

  • Something has happened in the past twenty years that surely must transcend anything else.

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