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For a while I have been using this table of sequences of verbs as a reference. Today I found this sentence, which doesn't correspond to either of the rules form the table:

You didn't answer the doorbell when I rang, so you must have gone to work early.

In the sentence above past simple is followed by present perfect.

I have several questions:

  • In what cases present perfect is used aster past simple?
  • Since the second action took place before the first one, why past perfect wasn't used: You didn't answer the doorbell when I rang, so you must had gone to work early?
  • Is the table I linked complete? Are there more possibilities of verbs sequences?
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    We never use 'must had'. Mar 10, 2023 at 8:04
  • @MichaelHarvey thanks for the heads up! I tried to figure out on my own how to say must have gone in past perfect tense, but couldn't. Can you help me out?
    – blablaalb
    Mar 10, 2023 at 17:01
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    You can use "must have + verb past participle (e.g. made, gone, done, etc.) regardless of the tense of the larger context. It does not have a past perfect form. I see you now; you are wet; you must have been walking in the rain. I saw you last Tuesday; you were wet; you must have been walking in the rain. Mar 10, 2023 at 19:07

1 Answer 1

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You're right that the sentence "You didn't answer the doorbell when I rang, so you must have gone to work early." is an exception to the typical past simple -> past perfect sequence.

Present perfect after past simple is used when:

  1. The first action interrupts the second action, which continues into the present. For example: "I rang the doorbell, but you had already gone to work."
  2. The second action's timeframe is unclear or irrelevant, and present perfect is used to emphasize the result or current state. For example: "You didn't answer, so you must have gone to work early."

Past perfect would imply the going to work early definitely happened before the ringing, but here the exact timeframe is unclear/less important, so present perfect is used.

The verb sequence tables are a general guide, but there are many exceptions and nuances. Other possibilities include:

  • Using modal verbs (like "must have" here) to speculate about past events
  • Using parallel structures with the same verb form (e.g. "you went to work early" for consistency)
  • Variations in formal/informal style
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