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Let's imagine someone writing to his buddy:

  1. Yesterday, I read an article in a newspaper.
  2. I learned that our town became the first in a list of towns ranked by quality of life.

The Simple Past in sentence 1 is understandable: a particular time (yesterday) is mentioned. Should one retain the Simple Past for "learned" and for "became"?

Or is it okay to switch to Present Perfect, and go on with the Present Perfect, since the information is new and has relation to the present moment:

  1. I've learned that our town has become the first in a list of towns ranked by quality of life.
  2. It has outstripped even Moscow and St. Petersburg!

Or is it better to keep "learned" in Simple Past, since the learning occured within the same timeframe as the reading mentioned in sentence 1, but switch to Present Perfect after it:

  1. I learned that our town has become the first in a list of towns ranked by quality of life.
  2. It has outstripped even Moscow and St. Petersburg!

I'm curious to know from which moment is it allowable to break loose of the use of the Past Simple commanded by the existence of a particular timeframe in sentence 1 and to start relaying novel information in Present Perfect.

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    Hi. This comes pretty close to proofreading question. Do you have specific concerns about the past versus present perfect? At any rate, your third set sounds best. Learned goes with read (past). Meanwhile, use has become/outstripped unless those facts are no longer true. – user6951 Nov 24 '14 at 16:31
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    But there may be a difference between BrE and AmE as to preference for the tense of learned. I think BrE uses present perfect more. – user6951 Nov 24 '14 at 16:34
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    @CarSmack So "has become" is distanced enough from "read" to be in the Present Perfect, but "learned" still belongs to the same timeframe. Thanks! – CowperKettle Nov 24 '14 at 16:56
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    That is the way I would most likely write it. The distance you refer to is, in my mind, the "distance" between your two simple past actions (read, learned) that you did and the facts about your town, which are still true when you read about them. – user6951 Nov 24 '14 at 17:07
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    @Humbulani See my answer. – user6951 Nov 25 '14 at 8:19
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I'm curious to know from which moment is it allowable to break loose of the use of the Past Simple commanded by the existence of a particular timeframe in sentence 1 and to start relaying novel information in Present Perfect.

Short answer: after the initial read, you can switch freely between simple past and present perfect. If you use have learned you are considering that to be part of the novel information.

Ex 4.
(Yesterday/today/just now,) I read an article in a newspaper.
I (have) learned that our town became/has become the first in a list of towns ranked by quality of life.
It (has) outstripped even Moscow and St. Petersburg!

So, even the following are okay:

Ex 5. (Yesterday/today/just now,) I read an article in a newspaper.
I have learned that our town became the first in a list of towns ranked by quality of life.
It has outstripped even Moscow and St. Petersburg!

Ex 6.
(Yesterday/today/just now,) I read an article in a newspaper.
I learned that our town has become the first in a list of towns ranked by quality of life.
It outstripped even Moscow and St. Petersburg!

Some of the following is written with the comments of Humbulani in mind:

After read, you are free to switch back and forth between the simple past and present perfect because this is a simple scenario with, at most, four things occurring.

First thing, (a) you read. You have established this with the simple past tense.

Either simultaneously or consequently to reading, (b) you learned. You can express this in simple past in parallel to the reading, or you can express this in present perfect as 'novel information' you are reporting.

The only other two bits of novel information you are reporting happened at the same time: (c) 'our town' is #1, and (d) 'our town' is before Moscow and Peter. They happened at the same time because the list indicating both facts was published at the same time.

You are free to report (c) and (d) using either the simple past or present perfect in any combination. Since (c) and (d) happened at the same time, your use of past and present perfect does not establish a time sequence between them, it reports your 'attitude' toward the events, as past events (simple past) or as past events connected with the present (present perfect).

You can do this with or without yesterday in the first sentence—as long as the word 'read' means the past tense (as opposed to 'read' that means present tense). You could have read the newspaper today or ten seconds ago. By using today, it is automatically inferred that you mean earlier today, since you use the past tense. You can even say just now, but everyone knows you mean a little time in the past.

In addition, that (c) and (d) happened before either (a) or (b) is understood from context, common sense, our knowledge of the world, and the grammatical construction used to report information.

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  • So, if we say: "I learned that our town has become the first in a list of towns ranked by quality of life", this is perfectly correct. The past simple followed by the present perfect here shows nothing about what happened earlier, and this plays another role. In this context, we rely only on common sense to understand what was the first and what was the next. – user11470 Nov 25 '14 at 13:55
  • If I get it right, in general, the past simple used together with the present perfect does not influence our understanding of the sequence of events. One event was the first to happen in the past, but it has been related with the present until now (town has become). The other event happened after the first one (he read and learned). But we can speak about it in the simple past tense. – user11470 Nov 25 '14 at 14:15
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Yesterday, I read an article in a newspaper. I learned that our town became the first in a list of towns ranked by quality of life.

Here's how I'd expect the above in American English.

Yesterday, I read an article...Our town has been ranked #1 for quality-of-life.

or

Yesterday, I read an article...... Our town was ranked #1 for quality-of-life.

To my ear, using the present perfect makes my statement about the town; using the past makes my statement about the article.

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