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I have more confusing sentences that were written by native Americans that seem to mix tenses. I'm not sure why these can be correct.

We noticed that you have created a return label for this order.

Does this make sense? Isn't it wrong like the sentence that was determined wrong in my previous post ("She has agreed to my terms, so I only did my part yesterday")?

You don't want to do this. Trust me, I wish I hadn't.

Why not use "I wish I didn't"?

We enjoyed peace. If only it had lasted.

Why not use "if only it lasted" when this hopeful sentence took place after the peace they enjoyed was gone?

"It has been a long time since all of us have been gathered in one place."

Why not "since all of us gathered in one place"? Don't people usually say "Ever since I read that, I've become smarter" instead of saying "Ever since I have read that I have become smarter"?

"I had been told that anyone who did that becomes a bad person."

Why should I use "had been told" when somebody doing something bad isn't relevant to what I've been told?

"People who have had their belongings taken will turn into miserable people."

Why not say "people who have their belongings taken will turn into miserable people"?

  • A friendly warning: asking this much in one question is generally frowned on here. I've tried to answer all of these, and others may, too. But it took me the better part of an hour, and I feel I've done none of them justice. "Less is more": a more focused question will get a much more complete answer. – StoneyB May 19 '13 at 22:13
  • Oh, I'm so sorry! I didn't want to post too many questions, so I just crammed them into one post. I'll definitely keep that in mind next time. But your answers were really helpful, so thank you very much! – Pato May 20 '13 at 3:26
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  1. We noticed that you have created a label ... The writers saw the label at some point in the past; consequently they employ the past tense (they might equally use the present perfect) The sentence is about the label; presumably it still exists and they are writing to say what they will do with it or to ask what they should do with it; accordingly they employ the present perfect, which signifies the present state brought about by a past event.

  2. You don't want to do this. Trust me, I wish I hadn't ... The speaker is citing evidence for the assertion that you don't want to do this: "I did it at some point in the past and now I wish I had not done it." The past perfect form is employed to signify a hypothetical or unreal past action.

  3. We enjoyed peace. If only it had lasted ... Again, the past perfect form is employed to signify a hypothetical or unreal past action.

  4. It has been a long time since all of us have been gathered in one place ... In this case you are right: the best way of expressing this would be were gathered. This is an instance of colloquial imprecision which probably none of the speaker's audience would notice.

  5. People who have had their belongings taken will turn into miserable people ... This one is very complicated. The second HAVE here (had) is used in a fairly uncommon sense: it is neither a perfect auxiliary nor a causative auxiliary (to have something done) but the lexical verb used to mean “experience” or “suffer” and taking as its direct object a non-finite clause with, very unusually, a bare infinitive as its head. Thus:

    She had her house burn down = She experienced her house burning down.

    Moreover—as if that were not complicated enough!—when the complementary clause is cast in the passive voice, the infinitive BE is dropped, leaving only the passive participle:

    She had her house struck by lightning = She experienced her house being struck by lightning.

    What this was all necessary for was to establish that in your alternative version, have their belongings taken, the main verb in the relative clause, have, would be in simple present form. But the simple present expresses action which occurs regularly or repeatedly:

    People who smoke = People who smoke habitually, every day, all the time

    When your author writes of people who have had their belongings taken he does not mean people whose belongings are taken habitually, every day, all the time. He employs the present perfect because he is speaking of the trauma suffered by people who have been robbed just once.

  • Can you please exlain "I had been told that anyone who did that becomes a bad person." Why not "I was told that anyone who does that becomes a bad person" – Dude May 19 '13 at 21:31
  • @JoeDimaggio You're right about did/becomes; but you need not change had been told; that construction is in the main clause, which has its own time scheme and does not necessarily govern temporal references in the subordinate clause. When I was ten years old I was told that anyone who makes fun of cripples goes to Hell, but Many years before that day I had been told that anyone who makes fun of cripples goes to hell. – StoneyB May 19 '13 at 21:40
  • @StoneyB: In the book, there was no reference to later event or anything. The character randomly began his conversation with "I had". Even so, is it okay to use "I had"? Similarly for the hypothetical unreal past action, the characters didn't refer to any later event before using past perfect. Is it still okay to use past perfect without two actions when you are simply signifying an unreal past action? – Pato May 20 '13 at 1:08
  • @Pato Yes, they are two different uses of the past perfect. If I had invested a hundred dollars then, I would be a rich man today, but I didn't. [That's the unreal hypothetical past perfect.] I had spent my money already when the opportunity to invest came up. [That's the ordinary 'past in the past' past perfect.] – StoneyB May 20 '13 at 2:04
  • @StoneyB: I'm not sure if you'll see this, but I have a quick question regarding the last example. Does "People who had their belongings taken will turn into miserable people" mean the same thing as "who have their belongings taken" in the sense that they both refer to something habitual? – Pato May 21 '13 at 5:22

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