A native speaker was talking about her experience when she went to a doctor in Scotland. She says after she was prescribed some medication, she did not have to pay anything for the prescriptions. She was happy about it and she said:

"Scotland had free prescriptions."

This sentence structure attracted my attention, because I would not able to say it like that. Instead I would say "Prescriptions were free in Scotland."

Do both sentences mean the same? or is "Prescriptions were free in Scotland." not a good sentence.?

  • 1
    Food was free at the event. The event had free food.
    – Lambie
    Apr 1, 2021 at 15:20

1 Answer 1


Both sentences mean the same thing but Prescriptions were free in Scotland sounds a little strange to my ear.

The speaker is talking about her own experience in Scotland, which happened in the past (and it sounds like this was only a visit—she doesn't still live there), so she uses the past tense. She is comparing the cost of prescriptions in Scotland to the cost of prescriptions "back home" and is emphasizing the difference by putting the location first: Scotland had free prescriptions (...but my home country didn't).

But when talking about prescriptions in general, presumably things haven't changed in Scotland since she was there—it wasn't some special program that was only in effect for a limited time. So in spoken English it would sound more natural to use the present tense and say Prescriptions are free in Scotland. In fact I would tend to use the present tense even when putting the location first: Scotland has free prescriptions. This speaker didn't do that; it's really a stylistic choice.

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