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What is the difference between "deny doing something" and "deny having done something"?

The context is as follows:

While being questioned on the court, the man denied [taking/having taken] the old lady's necklace.

Which one is correct, or are both? Is there a difference in meaning?

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  • Either are grammatical. Personally I prefer 'having taken'in speech as it always seems to me less likely to be mis-heard or misunderstood. But I am wondering what you mean by 'on the court'? Clearly if you are talking about a tennis-court, 'on' is correct, but if it is a court of law, it would need to be be 'questioned by the court', or 'in court'.
    – WS2
    Nov 9, 2013 at 18:48
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    @WC2 Rather, both are grammatical or either is grammatical, insofar as either aren’t grammatical. :)
    – tchrist
    Nov 9, 2013 at 20:14

2 Answers 2

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Use of have as auxiliary emphasizes that an action is completed. Though both forms are going to be properly understood in context, you would generally use the have version when dealing with an action that started and finished at an identifiable point in the past.

As I see it, the following are to be preferred w/o have, since they refer to activities which are either ongoing or intermittent:

Thomas denied taking the metro to work on Wednesdays.
Thomas denied being a stamp collector.

On the other hand (as most typically occurs with allegations of criminal acts), if the event has a definite starting and end point, then the have version is preferred:

Thomas denied having taken the metro on Wednesday January 8th
Thomas denied having purchased the Three Dragons stamp.

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  • Good point, but perhaps you could work on the examples. I could certainly deny being a stamp collector since I have no stamp albums. But to convincingly deny having been a stamp collector would require me to bring evidence from those who knew me as a boy. Jan 8, 2014 at 22:07
  • @TimLymington yes, because when you say deny having been... you imply that there was a definite point in the past at which you stopped being a stamp collector. saying deny being... is interpreted to mean that there is an ongoing identification. what is wrong with my examples?
    – user31341
    Jan 8, 2014 at 22:10
  • The man admitted taking the necklace is as much a reference to a specific point in time as The man admitted having taken the necklace. It is, however, at least as idiomatic, which seems to be what OP is asking about. If you are merely saying the latter is better than the former, I misunderstood (and I disagree with you). I thought there was something more subtle there, about denying altering the 'point in the past' concept. Jan 8, 2014 at 23:22
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I'd think both are acceptable, but 'doing something' sounds much more natual to me,
because I don't feel the necessary to use 'having done something' form.
If 'having taken' were required in that sentence to mean the taking occurred in the past,
then other similar verbs like 'remember', 'forget' and the like
would have to need 'having done something' to express 'the doing' happened before.

      I remember you saying that Nathan was such a bother.
      (I remember that you said Nathan was such a bother.)


Simple use of the gerund form 'saying' is good enough
to understand that 'your saying was in the past.'
So my take is there would be no difference between them,
and I might use 'having taken' for writing in a formal way if I had to use that form.

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