In the past week, 64 Afghans have been killed in the largest bomb to have exploded in Kabul in 15 years. Source1

I presume that this sentence is in terms of grammar OK. But I tend to switch the two tenses in this way: In the past week, 64 Afghans were killed in the largest bomb that has exploded in Kabul in 15 years. The bomb attack was the strongest in fifteen years (so the usage of present perfect) and at the beginning of the sentence is the particular time mentioned which indicates that the present perfect is not permitted (so the usage of simple past). Can you explain to me the tense usage in the above sentence?

1. www.independent.co.uk

  • When reporting the news of a past event, they usually start with the present perfect tense, and continue with the simple past (maybe to give a sense of urgency or freshness of the news).
    – Færd
    Apr 25, 2016 at 12:23
  • 3
    They were killed by the largest bomb, not in it. Note that you could reasonably use either preposition if we were talking about people killed in/by a bomb attack, for example, but it doesn't make sense to talk about being killed in a bomb. Apr 25, 2016 at 12:48
  • 2
    It is a probably TYPO. But not the one of mine. I cited the sentence precisely from the web.
    – bart-leby
    Apr 25, 2016 at 12:58

2 Answers 2


There is a slight difference in the message conveyed by these two sentences.

In the past week, 64 Afghans have been killed in the largest bomb (...)

This uses present perfect tense. You can view present perfect as describing the present state and connecting it to past events. So this sentence is sort-of saying "as of today, starting seven days ago, there are 64 Afghans dead due to the events".

In the past week, 64 Afghans were killed in the largest bomb (...)

This uses past simple tense, which tells you about events in the past, without connecting them to the present. The message here is in the spirit of "this is what happened on Tuesday". It implies that the deaths were a single event. As another answer suggested, if the deaths were a result of the bomb, but occurred in different times, then "have been killed" is more appropriate. Alternatively you could regard the deaths separately, as in "fifty people were killed immediately, and fourteen others died from their wounds on the following day".

For the second part, "to have exploded" and "that has exploded" seem like equivalent phrasings to me.

P.S. I feel a bit awkward discussing the linguistics of such horrible news.

  • Thanks for your answer. Good remark. After having read your comment I realized too that it can look a little bit absurdly to linguistically dissect the sentence which informs about such a terrible evenet.
    – bart-leby
    Apr 25, 2016 at 15:47
  • Yes, and the whole point of using the present perfect is not to be precise about whether 64 people died at the same time but to make the past deaths of 64 people relevant to the moment of speaking (aka the present). This is the whole point of the article: to make presently relevant several events (including the first one about the 64 deaths) of the past week, as opposed to only the death of Prince. Apr 25, 2016 at 16:04
  • Can you just tell me what exactly means "in the past week". I thought that it is equivalent to "last week".
    – bart-leby
    Apr 25, 2016 at 16:08
  • I think this answer explains the difference well. Perhaps I should have used "starting from last Monday" instead. Apr 25, 2016 at 16:53
  • How is this answer different from mine? I am curious.
    – user24743
    Apr 25, 2016 at 17:44

The tenses are mixed because there are two different time periods under discussion. 64 people were killed this week. The writer is then comparing this to the number killed in any explosion occurring over a 15 year period. So there's a recent past and a long-term past.

By the way, I find the preposition "in", as in "in the largest bomb", very odd. We normally say that someone was "killed by a bomb" or "killed in an explosion", but not "killed in a bomb". That sounds like he was physically inside the bomb when he was killed. I suspect the writer started out to say "killed in the largest explosion", then changed his mind to say "bomb", and forgot to fix the preposition.


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