Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

When telling a story in the present tense, what tense should we use for actions that take place before another action in the story, for example:

The king turns to his wife, who has already had a heart attack, and asks her...[Present Perfect]

The king turns to his wife, who had already had a heart attack, and asks her...[Past Perfect]

The king turns to his wife, who already had a heart attack, and ask her...[Simple Past]

The king turns to his wife, who already has a heart attack, and asks her...[Present Simple]

share|improve this question
    
You could have waited for your previous question to be answered before posting this. english.stackexchange.com/questions/58109/… –  Kris Feb 15 '12 at 8:55
    
To see how to do this, take a lesson from the master. –  Brian Hooper Feb 15 '12 at 12:35

2 Answers 2

up vote 1 down vote accepted

The tense you use for actions that took place before the action you are currently relating is determined by the usual criteria.

If that prior action has a current relevance, use the present perfect:

  • He looks for the money he has lost.

If that prior action happened in finished time, use the past simple:

  • He looks for the money he lost the day before.

The reason why the first sentence you quote is the best of the 4 choices is because the word 'already' (in British English at least) generally requires the present perfect tense. We say: "I've already eaten", not "I already ate".

share|improve this answer
    
Is there any case in which we would use the past perfect? –  Noah Feb 15 '12 at 14:10
    
@Noah, You can certainly use the past perfect in relating a conditional. Example: "He realises that she would not have died if she had followed his advice." As for the past perfect in "The king turns to his wife, who had already had a heart attack, and asks her ... ", I would probably not use it myself, but I don't regard it as an egregious error. –  Shoe Feb 15 '12 at 20:01

In most circumstances, the first of those would be the normal way of putting it.

share|improve this answer
    
The third of these is also acceptable in American English, but would be uncommon, I believe, in British English. –  Peter Shor Feb 15 '12 at 12:00
    
@PeterShor: Perhaps, but it seems to me that the present perfect construction is required to show that the past event, the heart attack, is of current relevance. –  Barrie England Feb 15 '12 at 12:09

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.