He dashed back across the road, hurried up to his office, snapped at his secretary not to disturb him, seized his telephone, and had almost finished dialing his home number when he changed his mind. He put the receiver back down and stroked his mustache, thinking... no, he was being stupid. Potter wasn't such an unusual name. He was sure there were lots of people called Potter who had a son called Harry. Come to think of it, he wasn't even sure his nephew was called Harry. He'd never even seen the boy. It might have been Harvey. Or Harold. There was no point in worrying Mrs. Dursley; she always got so upset at any mention of her sister. He didn't blame her - if he'd had a sister like that... but all the same, those people in cloaks... (Harry Potter)

Does the past perfect tense ought to be put because of the previous past perfect tense? : I think if there’s not the tense before, ‘might’ alone, as a past tense, could express possibility of his thinking. So to speak, the previous sentence makes a kind of unfulfilled condition for the latter sentence – if he had seen the boy, he might have known the exact name.

2 Answers 2


The sentences that are important for this question are:

Come to think of it, he wasn't even sure his nephew was called Harry.
It might have been Harvey. Or Harold.

The Come to think of it sentence helps to imply that Mr Dursley had been told what his nephew's name was at some time in the past.

The it might have been refers back to the point in time at which he was told; I.e., he is trying to think back to that point in time to see what name he had been told, but he can't quite remember it precisely. He seems to be able to recall that it started with an 'H'.

  • Yours improved my understanding better; yet, OED link says might could express possibility -past of may - “in reported speech.” From this point of view, isn’t Shawn Mooney’s sayings proper, based on the dictionary?
    – Listenever
    Feb 24, 2013 at 4:14
  • Might does mean possibility. His name, as best he can remember it, could possibly be Harvey or possibly Harold- He can't remember.
    – Jim
    Feb 24, 2013 at 5:02

First of all, there are no Past Perfect verbs in the text. Might have been is a modal Present Perfect verb phrase, and is perfectly correct in this context. It might be Harvey would be a present speculation/guess, which would be temporally incorrect here. It might have been Harvey is its equivalent speculation/guess transposed to the past.

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