When telling a story using the present tense, should events at a specific time in the past be recounted in the past perfect or in the past tense?

For example: I know to write

Jack entered the room and sat down. The fight had drained him, and he needed to rest.
, but is
Jack enters the room and sits down. The fight drained him, and he needs to rest.
Jack enters the room and sits down. The fight had drained him, and he needs to rest.
correct, and why?

(To me, the latter seems obviously correct, but someone recently insisted to be that the former is correct, and I could not defend or explain my position, so I'm asking here.)

Please note that I'm asking according to traditional (prescriptive) grammar.

  • This question appears to be off-topic because it is suitable for migration to ELL.
    – Kris
    Nov 5, 2013 at 6:48
  • @Kris, I don't know -- nothing in the post to indicate that O.P. is ESL person, which seems more like what ELL is for (to me at least... obviously I'm still kind of green to all this)
    – pmusser
    Nov 5, 2013 at 7:34
  • @Kris meta.english.stackexchange.com/q/4249. Fwiw, English is my only first language, I've always lived in an anglophone country, and I'm educated.
    – msh210
    Nov 5, 2013 at 8:10

1 Answer 1


Well, if we're using strictly present tense, then I would think that the latter one needs to be tweaked (but is the correct one):

Jack enters the room and sits down. The fight has drained him, and he needs to rest.

If that was a typo on your part, oops. Otherwise, I'd say that present perfect falls under "present" tense, while past perfect would fall under "past." But more than that, my reasoning behind this is the following quote from a book written entirely in present tense:

What else can he do? There are at least twelve of them. They have made a point of blocking the only exit. They have just announced their intentions. And presumably they are all carrying heat. Besides, this kind of thing is going to happen to him about every ten seconds when he's on the Raft.

Stephenson, Neal (2003-08-26). Snow Crash (Bantam Spectra Book) (Kindle Locations 5311-5313). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Not much in the way of grammar explanation, but there it is. But honestly, it's a matter of your own personal style. Do what feels right for the narrative you're telling.

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