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How do the tenses in English correspond temporally to one another?

"I can tell that he's not English, but I wouldn't had been able to tell that he's french if you didn't tell me first"

it was told me that this kind of usage is wrong, and that I should have used "I wouldn't have been able to tell that"

When should I use "had been" and when "have been"?

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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, RegDwigнt Jan 21 '12 at 16:00

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The question is too broad. I can tell you why you shouldn't use had in this example, but that's very far from telling you when you should use had been and when have been. There's no single rule for that. –  John Lawler Jan 21 '12 at 15:44
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The reason, by the way, is that should is a Modal Auxiliary Verb, and modal auxiliary verbs must be followed by the Infinitive form of the next verb. Had is not an infinitive form. Have is an infinitive form. That's all. –  John Lawler Jan 21 '12 at 15:47
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did you mean would ? –  Paul Jan 21 '12 at 15:51
    
Yes, quite right. Thanks. They're all modals, and they all have to be followed by an infinitive. –  John Lawler Jan 21 '12 at 16:27

1 Answer 1

up vote -2 down vote accepted

"have been" is the past perfect tense. It refers to an event in the past, from the perspective of the present. For instance, "[At some point before NOW] I have been told he's French".

"had been" is the pluperfect tense. You'd use it when talking about an event in the past that was before some other point in the past, say "Before I met him, I had been told he's French".

However, in your case it's actually a different beast, the conditional perfect tense. "would have been" is used whenever there's a condition that existed in the past, whether or not you'd ordinarily use "have been" or "had been".

Basically, the fact you're using a condition overrides the fact that you'd ordinarily use the pluperfect.

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‘Have been’ is not the past perfect tense. It is a present perfect construction. ‘Had been’ is not the pluperfect tense, but a past perfect construction. There is no such thing in English as the 'conditional perfect tense'. –  Barrie England Jan 21 '12 at 16:01

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