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In the sentence, "A theory that crying removes toxic substances from the body that build up during times of stress."

Should "build" be replaced with "built" or "had built"?

In my not-so expert opinion, since the toxic subtances need to build up before one cries / removes them, it should be in some form of past tense.

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  • That's not a sentence at all because here's no verb that goes with "theory". It's just a noun phrase with two subordinate clauses inside it.
    – gotube
    Sep 20, 2022 at 6:58

1 Answer 1

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If we take part of it to make a sentence, then we can play with the verb form and see what it means:

Crying removes toxic substances from the body that build up during times of stress

Here, we have present simple, which means something that normally happens, either ongoing or from time to time. In this case, it means toxic substances generally build up in the body in times of stress, and crying removes them. Good sentence.

Crying removes toxic substances from the body that built/had built up during times of stress.

Here, we have a sentence in the present simple, then a verb in the simple past. Simple past verbs refer to specific times in the past. A simple past verb should have a time associated with it. There is none in this sentence. Past perfect verbs require a simple past time to be further in the past than, and we don't have that either, so both these versions are incorrect.

If you want to include the nuance that the build-up happened before the crying, stick with present tenses:

Crying removes toxic substances from the body that have built up during times of stress.

Present perfect refers to the past, but is a present tense, so it fits well in this sentence. Here, it means that "crying", which is in the simple present tense, is preceded by a building-up of toxic substances. This also makes sense, so it's a good sentence.

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