0

I've come across the following sentence:

  1. The doctors confirmed (after the surgery) that it was the right thing to have done.

In my opinion it would be much better to say either:

  1. The doctors confirmed (after the surgery) that it had been the right thing to do.

Or:

  1. The doctors confirmed (after the surgery) that it was the right thing to do.

Here, I didn't move tenses (from it was to had been) because I was told it is not always necessary to do so.

What do you think? I am sure you will understand what the first sentence means. However, from my point of view, I can hardly justify the choice of the past infinitive (to have done) in combination with the past simple (it was). What does the use of "to have done" refer to/emphasize?

P.S. To make sure you get the whole context of the situation here is the whole paragraph my sentence comes from - "My right knee has been bothering me for a little while. I hoped it would go away, but after an examination and discussion with my team, I decided to have arthroscopic surgery in Switzerland yesterday. After the procedure, the doctors confirmed that it was the right thing to have done and are very confident of a full recovery."

Will appreciate your help :-)

2
  • 1
    You missed out The doctors confirmed that it had been the right thing to have done. Also "valid", but "ugly". Most native speakers would probably go for your simplest version (3), but the first two are perfectly valid. They all mean exactly the same thing, so why use complex verb forms when simpler ones work just as well? Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 13:41
  • Personally, I wouldn't really notice the choice between that it was and that it had been. But what immediately strikes me about the full context is the apparently random switch from that "confirmation" in the past to the present tense ...and are very confident of a full recovery. Simple Past or Past Perfect is no difference to speak of, but there's a definite clash between Past and Present with two such closely-related assertions in the same sentence. Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 14:48

2 Answers 2

0

The first sentence is the most correct.

If you say "it had been the right thing to do," you place the correctness of the action in the past perfect tense, which implies that it is no longer true as of the present time. In other words, what was right then may no longer be considered right now.

On the other hand, saying "it was the right thing to have done" uses the past simple which is commonly used for narration of past facts. This verb form makes no implication regarding the present validity or acceptance of those facts.

Grammatically, Sentence 2 is perfect. The problem comes, not with the grammar itself, but with the meaning it gives the sentence.

Sentence 3 is a valid variant of Sentence 1, and there is no difference in meaning between them.

0

"The right thing to do" is something of an idiomatic phrase. It represents a general principle that is universally true - ie the right thing to do in a particular circumstance at any time it arises. It generally means the morally correct thing to do. So, it is perfectly normal and correct to say "it was the right thing to do" about something that happened in the past because the inference is that it is still the right thing to do if it were to happen again.

When you change it around and say "it was the right thing to have done" it not only ceases to be a recognisable idiom, and therefore loses some of its idiomatic meaning, but it also becomes more specific to the circumstances. "It was the right thing to have done" sounds like it was right at that time or in those very specific circumstances rather than something that is universally right.

If you're not trying to convey some universal, moral right, then you might be better saying "it was the best thing to do under the circumstances" or "it was the best option at the time".

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .