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.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I came across something really strange today in class. Because it was an anecdote, the story changed from past to present. Then, in the same sentence, the writer used the past perfect tense with the present tense.

"I go into the room, and see the guy take my bag that I had left there."

Can this possibly be correct?

share|improve this question
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Yes, I think there is an exception for "historic present".

In this context, both "have left" and "had left" are possible, but there is a difference in meaning (at least for me): "have left" brings the act of leaving into the story, whereas "had left" puts it outside the story, before the story started, perhaps. However, the distinction is not really a matter of chronology, but of narrative focus.

share|improve this answer
+1 for that last sentence. Personally, I was actually "expecting/hoping for" past tense "had left" before I even got to it. Things get complicated if you have to imagine the leaving of the bag as something central to the narrative, which as you say is what the present tense implies. – FumbleFingers Jun 12 '12 at 0:49

Your Answer


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.