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"He wasn't a stranger because I have met him before."

What's wrong with this sentences?

  • 6
    *"What's wrong with this sentence?" or... "What's wrong with these sentences?" – Andrew Gallasch May 19 '16 at 2:20
  • You could replace "have" with "had", or (at least when speaking) simply remove "have" to get "He wasn't a stranger because I met him before" – Jojodmo May 19 '16 at 4:50
  • As others point out in their answers, the tenses do not agree. But the sentence has another problem. It asserts an overly narrow definition of the word "stranger". A person you have met can still be considered a stranger to you (but not a "total stranger") if you know little or nothing about him. He could also be a stranger in one of the other senses of the word. – David42 May 19 '16 at 16:01
  • I see several people point out that the tenses do not match. I read them both as OK, but with different meanings. In the 'had' case I feel like there was one or possibly one significant prior meeting. In the other 'have' case there was more continuity where they had met several times. Am I reading too much into this? – Ukko May 19 '16 at 18:30
  • Just a general comment here: the problem is indeed that the tenses don't match, but it is a logical problem, not a grammatical one. – Paul Apr 25 '17 at 15:56
2

The sentence is structured as a logical proposition (e.g. A is true "because" B is true), but the logic is invalid because of the inconsistent tenses.

"He wasn't a stranger" means that at some time in the past (say T1) he was not a stranger. "I have met him before" refers to a different time when I met him (say T2). T1 and T2 can be different times. If T2 was after T1, then the logical inference is invalid. For example:

  1. Monday: I met him for the first time, so he was a stranger
  2. Tuesday: I met him again.
  3. Wednesday (now): "He wasn't a stranger (on Monday) because I have met him before (on Tuesday)"

Long story short - The sentence is wrong because it is illogical.

  • It's illogical only because of the grammar problem with the tenses, which is easily corrected because it's pretty obvious what the writer meant: "He wasn't a stranger [at the time I'm referring to] because I had [not have] met him before." – nnnnnn May 19 '16 at 13:19
  • I see your point and we all know what the OP meant, but technically this is not a problem with grammar. Tense agreement between two independent clauses is not a matter of grammar -- it is a matter of logic and/or style. – Paul Apr 25 '17 at 15:52
37

The verb tenses do not agree. "He was not" requires "I had met". Or, you could use "He is not" with "I have met".

Both tenses need to be in agreement. However, if speaking this to a native English speaker, they will definitely understand what you mean, and they may not even notice the incorrect grammar. In my region of the United States, many people would not even realize that the sentence had anything wrong (in conversation- they might notice if it was written).

  • 3
    Yup. In fact, I'd be asking myself, "hasn't he learned about contractions? why didn't he say 'He wasn't a stranger because I've met him before'"? (California native.) – davidbak May 18 '16 at 23:04
  • but not contracting places emphasis on the have and imo depending on how you ennunciate it greatly opens the scope for possible meanings. It could easily become a question for instance - ir depends on whether this was written of vocal. Granted there is no question mark but it is very easy to have a range of questioning/doubt in an assertion. The varying in tense achieves this imo. – John Nicholas May 19 '16 at 8:58
  • 1
    I’m a native speaker generally very nit-picky about grammar, and I have to admit I completely missed the tense mismatch when I saw this question in the Hot Network Questions; I was all ready to come here and say it looks fine. – KRyan May 19 '16 at 18:43
  • "Both tenses need to be the same" -- well, the tenses need to be different, but they need to be different in a specific way that makes them agree with each other. "Wasn't" is simple past, "had not" is past perfect, because you're talking about a time in the past when he was not a stranger, and an earlier time in the past when the meeting occurred. Similarly you can combine simple present with present perfect. – Steve Jessop May 19 '16 at 22:25
6

Actually, I tend to think of the issue with this sentence as a logical one, rather than grammatical (although of course most grammatical rules are meant to be logical). In fact, there is no grammatical rule that two independent clauses in a compound sentence (of which this is an example) need to have the same tense. Because they are exactly that: independent.

The more fundamental issue here is this: how can you say that the man was not a stranger simply because you have met him before? It is very possible that you had not met him at the time of seeing him even though you have met him since then, in which case he would have still been a stranger at that point. So having met the person at the current time is not sufficient condition to say that he was not a stranger at all points in your past. So it is really a logical problem as well as a grammatical one.

  • 3
    There's no logical problem, because it's obviously a grammar mistake. He wasn't a stranger at the time that the speaker/writer is referring to, because they'd met before that. There is no implication that he was not a stranger at all points in the past. Also, with "because" linking the two halves of the sentence they're not really independent. – nnnnnn May 19 '16 at 13:09
  • Look up the definition of an independent clause and a compund sentence. They can still be linked with a "Because" as long as they can stand alone as individual sentences grammatically. I am using the strict definition here. And yes, there is a logical problem, but since it involves tense it is also a grammar problem. My point is just that these rules aren't arbitrary: they are based in logic. – Paul May 20 '16 at 16:57
  • But to clarify, I never said there was an implication that he was not a stranger at all points in the past. Actually I was saying the opposite. In order for this to make sense with the second clause being in present tense, it would have to imply that the person was a stranger at all points in the past, which it DOES NOT do. An example of this would be "he was not a stranger because I have never met a stranger". – Paul May 20 '16 at 17:02
  • "He wasn't a stranger because I had met him before" has no logical or grammatical problems. "He isn't a stranger because I have met him before" is also fine. Clearly one or the other is the intended meaning here, but we can't say which because no context has been provided. – nnnnnn May 20 '16 at 20:22
  • yes, that's true. But the issue isn't grammatical. With a different verb, it would work fine: "he wasn't at the meeting because I have seen pictures of him at the library at that time" is fine – Paul Apr 25 '17 at 15:50
1

The correct form of this sentence would be: "He wasn't a stranger because I had met him before", so that there is verb-tense agreement. "He isn't a stranger because I have met him before". However, this changes the sentence from past tense to present. I hope this helps!

0

The sentence can be corrected to:

"He isn't a stranger because I've met him before." or "He is not a stranger because I have met him before."

Points to note: 1. Usage of contractions, such as "isn't", "wouldn't", should be consistent throughout a sentence. It sounds awkward otherwise. 2. The author of the sentence has met the person before, so right now, the person is no longer a stranger. Therefore the author ought to use present tense to describe the person's status. You could see it this way: The person was a stranger, and is no longer a stranger.

  • There is no need to use the present tense. The speaker/writer is trying to indicate that the other person wasn't a stranger at the time of some past event that they're referring to, because the two had met prior to that event. – nnnnnn May 19 '16 at 13:05
  • I disagree that contraction inconsistency necessarily makes a sentence awkward. Even if it did, the consistent construction would be "He's not a stranger..." – Timbo May 20 '16 at 22:47

protected by Community May 19 '16 at 12:50

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