Which is correct?

My book was left untouched for so many years.


My book is left untouched for so many years.

Well, until now, that book is really untouched. So does that mean that just because the situation is in present tense, I should use "is left untouched" even though "was left untouched" sounds right to me?

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  • 1
    The answer is was. But maybe better suited for english-language learners se? – virmaior Jan 28 '14 at 2:34
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    If you are trying to convey that the book was not only left untouched for many years and is still untouched down to this very day, try has been left untouched. – StoneyB Jan 28 '14 at 2:34
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    I think this is Off Topic General Reference for ELU, but could be okay on English Language Learners. fwiw, I suspect OP's context is one where the normal thing to say would be My book has been left untouched for so many years. (I still have a chance to re-edit, so SNAP! @StoneyB! :) – FumbleFingers Jan 28 '14 at 2:34
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    meta: That there has been no confident, categorical answer in three hours could earn this question the right to stay on ELU rather than relo to ELL :) – Kris Jan 28 '14 at 6:04
  • Yes, is left, was left, has been left, had been left are all grammatical and make sense. In the OP's context, is left is the natural choice, as that is the status at the moment of writing. – Kris Jan 28 '14 at 6:06

"The book has/had been left untouched for many years’’ is the correct form in this context.

The ‘’is left’’ form is more suitable with a reference context, for instance where the speaker is narrating something about the future. Such forms fit mostly in prose and fiction.

On the other hand, the ‘’was left’’ form most appropriately finds its use in dialogues.

  • 1
    There would be very few situations where it would sound natural. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 28 '14 at 6:00
  • @EdwinAshworth could you explain the difference with example? – Nitika Jan 28 '14 at 6:08
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    I'm the one that downvoted you. That's because the phrase "My book is left untouched for so many years" would need a relatively specialized context in order to be grammatical. Such contexts could be prose and fiction, such as where a reminiscent or omniscient narrator is telling the reader something that involves knowing about the future. Otherwise, the more usual forms would probably be something like: "The book has/had been left untouched for many years". The version of "The book was left untouched for many years" could be said in dialogue, and also as narrative in prose. – F.E. Jan 28 '14 at 6:32
  • @F.E. My answer omitted 'left' and read ''My book is untouched for so many years''. The OP wants to describe a book that has not been touched yet, and my statement signifies both past and present. Do you agree? – Nitika Jan 28 '14 at 6:43
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    I would disagree. Even the version without "left" is sorta unusual, in that it sounds artificial for the usual type of situation. Now, I could imagine a person complaining to another, "My body is untouched for so many years" -- but even here, the typical form would be "My body was untouched for (so) many years" or "My body has been untouched for (so) many years". For a book which has been untouched for many years, the usual type of phrase will use either a simple past-tense or a perfect construction. – F.E. Jan 28 '14 at 8:28

An instance where "was" sounds natural:

"Although burglars succeeded in penetrating the security, my book was left untouched."

An instance where "is" sounds natural:

"The exam was postponed, my book is, again, left untouched."

The difference between these two might be that in the second instance, the news of the exam being postponed have just been received. Quite possibly the book is within reach.

In the first instance relatively more time has passed since the burglary. It is less recent and the book is probably not within reach.

I'm trying to justify the reason these two things feel natural to me in different situations. I hope it helps.