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I have paid my electric bills until now.

The change is imminent if there is one.

I had paid my electric bills until now.

The change has already been done meaning I had paid my electric bills until I did not pay them anymore.

I have never been to Japan until now.

I can say that when I am in the plane, but after the plane has landed and I am out of the plane and walking on the Japanese ground I shall say:

I had never been to Japan until now.

(the change has already been done): I am in Japan now.

Until today the volcano has been dormant but this morning it erupted.

In this sentence the change has already been done so why don't we use past perfect? Is it because the change was very recent?

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  • Yours is an unusual context, because usually, we'd say I've paid my electric bill up to now - meaning I've just received a bill for all electricity used until very recently, and I've paid it, so I don't owe the power company any money. But I suspect you want it to mean Until very recently, I have always paid my electricity bill. But I don't intend to pay the current / next bill. Not intending to pay utility bills is a very new idea for most people (in the past, they'd just cut off your supply and take you to court). Oct 30, 2023 at 18:22
  • ...but putting that aside, there's no real difference between Past Perfect and Present Perfect in your context. Present Perfect is more natural, but until now forces both versions to mean exactly the same thing anyway. It would be different with, say, #1 I had smoked after dinner every day until I got married and #2 I have smoked after dinner every day until now, where you couldn't use have in #1, and had in #2 is a bit awkward for the same reason as it is in your example. Oct 30, 2023 at 18:31
  • But you shouldn't really say "I had never been to Japan until now" anyway, because the situation is current, not past. If you were referring to the situation later, you could use Past Perfect "I had never been to Japan until then" - but idiomatically I'd prefer "...never been to Japan before that." Where "that" refers to the visit to Japan in the past that you're talking about. Oct 30, 2023 at 18:41

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It's quite common and natural to use present perfect if the change is quite recent. It's also correct to use past perfect in those situations. It depends what you're trying to express.

With present perfect, the focus is on what was true until now, suggesting that some aspect of it is still true. And with past perfect, the focus is on the new situation, and how that period is finished and in the past.

With the electric bills, if you're trying to convince the electric company not to shut off your power, you would want to emphasize to them that you still are a person who pays their bills, but it was just this one time that you didn't. This may convince them to give you another month before shutting off your power.

But if you're telling a friend that you're embarrassed that you're no longer a person who can pay their bills on time, then the focus is on the change itself, and past perfect is the right choice.

With the Japan flight, let's say you have just landed, and are standing on Japanese soil. If you want to focus on how little experience you have of Japan or how nervous you are, then your focus is that this is entirely new to you, so you could still use the present perfect.

But if you're counting the countries whose soil you have stood on, then the moment you get off the plane, you are focusing on the new change and should proudly use the past perfect.

The volcano example is a bit odd. It's not wrong, but I don't see any compelling reason to use present perfect. An editor would change it to past perfect because the focus is the fact that it's now erupting, not the fact that it had been dormant before.

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  • So you disagree with FumbleFingers for you "I had never been to Japan until now." could be said as soon as I have touched the Japanese soil ( if I was counting all the countries I have already visited .)
    – Yves Lefol
    Nov 3, 2023 at 18:35
  • @YvesLefol If FF says it's impossible to say it after touching Japanese soil, then yes, I disagree.
    – gotube
    Nov 4, 2023 at 3:52

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