You didn’t see a ghost.

What is the matter? You look as if you _________________________

a) …..saw the ghost?

b) … have seen the ghost?

I have always thought that unreal imaginative events produce past tense in «as if» Clause. The keys in the grammar book say – have seen the ghost. Could you, please, explain why?

Thank you!

  • 2
    Yet another example of an incorrect grammar book. We say "You look as if you had seen a ghost." (The ghost might be appropriate in a house reputed to be haunted by a particular ghost.) Apr 19, 2022 at 8:12
  • @KateBunting i wanted to say that exact same thing as you, but if you already mentioned it, then I cant rly post my answer right?
    – DialFrost
    Apr 19, 2022 at 8:23
  • @DialFrost - do you understand the difference between answers and comments on this site? Apr 19, 2022 at 8:29
  • 1
    @DialFrost - people frequently incorporate comments of others in answers if they are helpful; it may be considered polite to give credit to the commenters. Comments should be considered temporary; they may be deleted at any time by moderators. To obtain guidance, all new members should take the tour. Apr 19, 2022 at 8:37
  • 1
    @DialFrost - even in comments, it is probably better to avoid text-speak such as 'ty', and use case and punctuate correctly (e.g. 'I'll' not 'ill'). Apr 19, 2022 at 8:43

1 Answer 1


You are allowed to say:

You look as if you have seen a ghost

Unless you want so specify a specific ghost e.g. in a haunted house that is known for a specific ghost that haunts that house, then you can use the below (again credits to @KateBunting)

You look as if you have seen the ghost

Using the below might be a bit odd

You look as if you had seen a ghost

"have seen" is present perfect tense and you can use it, and "had seen" is past perfect tense. This is because one is describing the person's current appearance. Using "had" can be odd after "look" (credits to @MichaelHarvey and @JamesK for clarification!)

Below are examples of "have seen" and "had seen" (credits to @MichaelHarvey)

Hey Joe! What's the matter? You look like [or/if] [you've/you] have just seen a ghost!

When I saw Joe last night, he looked [like/as] if he had just seen a ghost.

  • 1
    'You look as if you have seen ( or 'have just seen') a ghost' is perfectly normal. 'Had seen' is odd after the present 'look'. Apr 19, 2022 at 8:47
  • 1
    Present perfect seems correct here. The speaker is talking about the person's present appearance. The connection is made between the past event (seeing a ghost) and the present. so "You look as if you've seen a ghost" is a valid expression.
    – James K
    Apr 19, 2022 at 8:47
  • 1
    (1) Hey Joe! What's the matter? You look like [or as if] you've/you have [just] seen a ghost! (2) When I saw Joe last night, he looked like/as if he had [just] seen a ghost. Apr 19, 2022 at 8:50
  • 1
    @DialFrost - you need to realise this site is not simply here to answer the OP's question (although it is useful, hopefully, to them). In any case the 'help' for the OP should be in good answers worthy of upvotes as the tour makes clear. Apr 19, 2022 at 9:11
  • 1
    @DialFrost - you need to understand the purpose of comments, and of answers. They are different. All these comments are a bad thing. This is not Reddit. Apr 19, 2022 at 9:16

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