I've got a sentence on a learner's site, "This is the watch that I had lost" and now it's puzzling me. What's the rule to use the Past Perfect here? And why should I use specifically this tense?

It's stated, that this sentence is right and well-formed. But if someone replaced "had" by "have": "This is the watch that I have lost", it would be impossible unless the watch is shown on a photo. Is it right?

Why can't I just use the Past Simple here: "This is the watch that I lost" ?

1 Answer 1


As you say, what you would ordinarily say is

This is the watch that I lost.

If you are required by the imbecility of testwriters to use a perfect, it must be a past perfect.

Because you now have the watch, you cannot say that you have lost it (except in a very unlikely 'experiential' sense of the perfect). Consequently, only the past perfect would be at all likely.

  • CORRECTION, thanks to Sydney: It is also possible that you don't have the watch but are "showing a photo of" it; in this case the present perfect would be appropriate—but not required.

However, the past perfect is not required; in fact, it is inappropriate unless there is in the discourse some salient past time to which the perfect is related. For instance:

Officer Thomas arrested me for behaving suspiciously, even though I told him I was looking for my watch. But my friend Joe went back and found it, right where I was looking. This is the very watch that I had lost!

  • 1
    Maybe "This is the watch that I have lost" is possible if you are showing a photo of the watch!
    – Sydney
    Jun 11, 2016 at 22:18
  • @Sydney O cunning! I'm gonna steal that. Jun 11, 2016 at 22:24
  • @Sydney, I've asked about that on the post. That's a really weird implication of using Present Perfect for me.
    – tsul
    Jun 11, 2016 at 22:29
  • @tsul So you did. I should have read more attentively. Jun 11, 2016 at 22:32
  • @tsul: I read this first thing in the morning, and missed the details.
    – Sydney
    Jun 11, 2016 at 23:48

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