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When I googled 'pertain definition', it gives the explanation

be in effect or existence in a specified place or at a specified time

and this sentence:

their economic circumstances are vastly different from those which pertained in their land of origin.

That sentence uses 'are' in simple present tense, then why does it use 'pertained' rather than 'pertains'?

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    They're no longer in their land of origin (that's in their past). So whereas it's perfectly grammatical to use Present Tense pertain in the cited context (assuming that some of their fellow countrymen are still in that "land of origin" experiencing those economic circumstances), it's more natural to describe the situation from their perspective. Sep 28, 2022 at 15:50

2 Answers 2

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Their current circumstances, in the land they presently occupy, are different from the ones that they used to have in the past when they lived in their land of origin.

Compare:

This meatloaf is much worse than the one we had when Lunchlady Doris worked in the kitchen.

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Part1

I think of plugging in the definition as if it were a maths problem or something

Plugging in definition to

their economic circumstances are vastly different from those which pertained in their land of origin.

gives

their economic circumstances are vastly different from those which (are or were) in effect or existence in their land of origin.

Part2

Hmmm...wait...actually I think either pertain or pertained works technically depending on the context, but I think the present tense pertain is kind of unusual an interpretation.

I think the intended interpretation is that 'they' migrated from their land of origin to wherever they are now. Thus, it's been awhile, probably years, since the migration and then during this time their economic circumstances are vastly different, probably vastly better. Hence, we use past tense.

Part3

But technically I can imagine the sentence with present tense 'pertain' in some kind of fictional story, say, fantasy where some genie grants 'their' wish to become richer and live somewhere else. Then I guess you'd say the present 'pertain' since it was only a few minutes ago since their economic circumstances changed.

Note: As for the exact cut-off between a few minutes and years, I think it's about if they've gotten settled already to their new economic circumstances. I guess even if years pass but they haven't settled somehow (maybe the genie takes them into the future?), you might still use present tense.

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