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In the fifth episode of the TV show Chernobyle one of the characters said the following.

In order to sign the certificates, all safety tests had to have been completed.

I don't understand why he say had to have been, not has to have been For example:

In order to sign the certificates, all safety tests have to have been completed.

Do both sentences perfectly grammatical and natural If so, could you tell me what the difference is?

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Both are natural-sounding and grammatical except for the subject agreement in the second sentence: ... all safety tests have to ...

You can clear up the confusion by inserting an adverb: ... had to have previously/already been completed in order to ...

It suggests the linkage between two events.

Besides, the sentence is a bit stuffy and overdone, so I recommend saying:

all safety tests had/needed to be completed.

Pragmatically speaking, both mean the same thing beside the tense. But if you changed the tense, it still wouldn't be in marked contrast to the tense used in the original sentence.

Both of the sentences lack the context, so that's why the tense wouldn't make any noticeable difference in meaning.

Compare these two:

In order to sign the certificates, all safety tests had to be completed.

In order to sign the certificates, all safety tests have to be completed.

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  • Thanks for the answer! What I was asking is about drawing conclusions, not obligations. When you say "all tests had to be concluded, it means it was absolutely necessary", am I right? If they said "all safety tests had to have been completed, there must have been a reason. Feb 8, 2021 at 8:22
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Both sentences are perfectly natural and grammatical, but they have different meanings.

"... all safety tests had to have been..." means the certificates were signed in the past, so the condition of having to have been completed applies in the past, before the certificates were signed, not in the present.

Your suggested sentence means the current requirement is that all safety tests be completed before someone signs the certificate.

If the story is about certificates signed in the past, then the original sentence is correct. If the story is about certificates being signed now, then your sentence is correct.

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