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Here are two sentences and I'd like to know which is common or you would more likely choose.

He looked as if he was a beggar.

I'm not sure whether he was a beggar or not, but seeing as his clothes being worn out, it seems that he was a beggar.

He looked as if he had been a beggar.

It implies that he was probably not a beggar. He could actually be my boss or he brought quite a large amount of money with him. I couldn't understand why he was dressing like that even though he was not a beggar.

Am I right to think this way? The 2nd one is quite complex to use because it implies quit a lot. Is the 2nd sentence common enough?

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Personally, I wouldn't choose either. The phrase 'as if' is normally reserved for hyperbolic hypotheticals rather than more ordinary ones - eg: "He was laughing so hard it looked as if he was choking on a piece of steak." While grammatically correct, both of your examples have a somewhat forced (unidiomatic) construction as well as being somewhat ambiguous with regard to past/past perfect state distinctions.

I would put things more simply as:

He looked like a beggar.

This is less ambiguous with regard to time and tense (It remains ambiguous as to actual knowledge of his true condition versus appearance). If however, you do wish to emphasize a distinction between past and past perfect states (I can't really imagine why in this instance, but in other practical examples, it might be more relevant), then some of the following constructions are more idiomatic:

He looked like he used to beg.

He looked like he had previously been a beggar.

This last is similar to your second option, but still just a little clumsy, I'd prefer:

He looked like a retired beggar.

| improve this answer | |
  • Was ready to upvote until I hit retired. :-) – Tᴚoɯɐuo Mar 1 '15 at 13:34
  • Sorry, it was for OP. deleting it. – Brian Hitchcock Mar 3 '15 at 8:11

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