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I was talking to her about something else when she suddenly started to talk about what he had been up to these days.

I was talking to her about something else when she suddenly started to talk about what he was up to these days.

I was talking to her about something else when she suddenly started to talk about what he has been up to these days.

I was talking to her about something else when she suddenly started to talk about what he is up to these days.

Which of the above sentences grammatically correct? What's the difference in their meaning?

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All are grammatically correct, and there is little practical difference in their meaning. Noting only the words that change with each example,

"had been up to these days" indicates the actions are in the past, although recent;

"was up to these days" could indicate the actions are in the present and/or near past;

"has been up to these days" indicates the actions are in the near past;

"is up to these days" indicates the actions are presently happening and ongoing.

"These days" keeps all of these examples in the present, recent or near past.

  • "Was up to" is not necessarily confined to the past. It could include ghe present set in the past tense due to backshifting. – Jim Reynolds Feb 8 '16 at 3:42
  • Has been/have been can describe events that occurred only in the past. I've been eating a lot lately does not always signal actions that carry through to the present. – Jim Reynolds Feb 8 '16 at 3:45
  • what about the "Had Been" one? – lekon chekon Feb 8 '16 at 13:27
  • @JimReynolds- I think my edits have addressed your concerns, but please let me know if they haven't (or edit my answer accordingly). Also, I think lekon chekon's question in the comment above is for you. Thank you. – Mark Hubbard Feb 8 '16 at 19:38
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I was talking about something else when she started suddenly talking about what he was up-to these days. In your sentences, suddenly, as in “suddenly started,” is a misplaced modifier.

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