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In the centre of the hall, there were a number of tall structures which contained coloured lights. These lights flickered continuously like traffic lights which have gone mad.

Why use ‘have’ there? I feel that using ‘had’ is better way. Am I right?

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The word have occurs in a clause beginning with like, which indicates that it is a simile - something that is not directly related to the actual situation. When providing a simile, it is not necessary for the time frame of the simile to be the same as the time frame for the actual situation. It is therefore perfectly reasonable to use present perfect in the simile when past perfect would be the correct tense for the real situation.

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  • Why did the author not use ‘present tense’? – Y. zeng Mar 25 at 13:45
  • @Y.zeng the simple present "is mad" is used to mean "insane" or "extremely silly" dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/mad. We use the present perfect "has gone mad" to describe "a particular type of thing that has gone out of control" dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/… – JavaLatte Mar 25 at 14:00
  • What about go mad? – Y. zeng Mar 25 at 14:03
  • @Y.zeng that's tricky. It could go either way. Have a look at these examples google.com/… – JavaLatte Mar 25 at 14:08
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    "Go mad" would refer to the moment the lights change from normal to mad, meaning the moment they broke. "Have gone mad" refers to the current broken state of the lights. The coloured lights in the structure aren't becoming mad (just starting to blink), they are currently mad (they started blinking at some time before). – gotube Jun 14 at 23:12

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