I was thinking about a certain situation.

Suppose that one week ago, I played basketball once, and that today I was talking with a friend.

I: I played basketball once last week.

My friend: Did you have fun?

I: Not bad, but I didn't play well because I haven't played in a long time.

I am really not sure whether I should use "haven't" or "hadn't" here. Please let me hear your opinions.

  • But you have played basketball recently, since you played it last week. Before that, however, you had not. – Anonym Aug 15 '14 at 9:02
  • Several answers have been given that address and adequately answer your question; you should accept one of them as the correct answer by clicking on the ‘✔’ mark next to the up- and downvote buttons on the left side of the answer. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 14 '14 at 10:45
  • I'd be more worried about answering "Did you have fun?" with "Not bad." – Kaz Dragon Feb 11 '15 at 14:37

Not bad, but I didn't play well because I hadn't played in a long time.

I think hadn't should be used here because it refers to past time that has ended when you played: So essentially, it looks like this:

[Further Past (1)————————]{Past (2)———}————— Present (3)

  1. You not playing in a long time (includes the braces) EDIT: This corresponds to "I hadn't played in a long time", but when (2) occurred, you had then played.
  2. You finally playing (continues until the end of match [marked by the end "}"]. EDIT: This corresponds to "I didn't play well")
  3. You talking about it. (EDIT: This corresponds to the present, which is when you are talking about/mentioning it.

I hope that is intelligible enough to help!

  • But many native speakers would use perfect past in that situation.Especailly when the event was not so long ago.For example, if it's "I played basketball yesterday", I believe many native speakers would use perfect past. – Jackrina Aug 15 '14 at 9:30
  • @Jackrina I don't see your contention. I'm suggesting you use the past perfect. – Jasper Locke Aug 15 '14 at 9:56
  • I know, what about this point of view. " But I'd guess that 90+% of native speakers would use 'Because I haven't played in a long time', notionally grouping {'last week' to 'now'} into 'the present' when contrasted with the previous time 'I' played. – Edwin Ashworth 2 hours ago " – Jackrina Aug 15 '14 at 10:29
  • No, I don't think that's correct. The because clause refers to prior to this point in time: "I played basketball once last week." On the yesterday question, they probably would be more likely to use the past perfect in the because-clause (if I'm understanding that question right). – Jasper Locke Aug 15 '14 at 10:43
  • Okay, what about 'I played basketball this morning', and I was talking with my friend in the afternoon. Should I still use ' I hadn't played in a long time' ? – Jackrina Aug 15 '14 at 10:48

A simple school grammar rule, "Past tense is followed by the past tense"

Haven't is present prefect and so not correct in this case. Hadn't is fine.

  • I'm afaid the rule doesn't quite apply here. What if I played basketball yesterday. It's also in the past, but 'haven't ' could be used. – Jackrina Aug 15 '14 at 7:39
  • When 1st part of the sentence is in the past, then second part of the same sentence has to follow the rule. – JuliandotNut Aug 15 '14 at 7:40
  • Apart from that, see this answer. When you mention in a long time, use of past tense becomes necessary. – JuliandotNut Aug 15 '14 at 7:43
  • 1
    Neither is incorrect here. But I'd guess that 90+% of native speakers would use 'Because I haven't played in a long time', notionally grouping {'last week' to 'now'} into 'the present' when contrasted with the previous time 'I' played. (And you don't want to hear Professor Lawler's views on 'Simple School Grammar'.) – Edwin Ashworth Aug 15 '14 at 7:52

I have written about this sometime ago. Before anyone closes this thread for redundancy, I will explain it again.

There are two concepts that you have to understand here:

  • possession and temporal displacement of possession.
  • participles, and in this case past participles.

1. Possession

When you say

I have {something}

it means you presently possess it. The time of reference is now.

However, English and Romance languages, provide facility to move your time of reference. Let us say you wish to displace your time of reference to last Tuesday, you would then have to use the past tense.

I had {something} last Tuesday.

2. Participles

Forming participles is the transforming of verbs into adverbs, adjectives or abstract objects.

Verb: burn. Adjective from present participle: burning man.

But for your question, we are interested in the past participle.

Implying an abstract entity from a past participle

I have {abstract entity}.
I have {eaten lunch}.

Which means you have completed the existence an abstract entity, in order for you to have that entity.

Which is why you need to have a completed tense (in older less comprehensible terms, they call it the "perfected" tense).


I have {eaten lunch}.

is a present {completed} tense. Otherwise aka present {perfected} tense, aka present {perfect}.

As I had previously pointed out, let us say you wish to displace your time of reference to yesterday.

I had {abstract entity} yesterday.
I had {eaten} yesterday.

Since the time of reference is in the past, it is a past {completed} tense. Otherwise aka past {perfected} tense, aka past {perfect}.

Know ye also there is possible the future {completed}.

Next year, I will beat you soundly at the game, because I will have {had two years of solid practice}.


When you say,

I have not played in a long while.

the time of reference is now. You are saying,

If I played right now, I would lose. Because right now, I have not {played} for two years.

But, if you moved the time of reference to last year ...

  • I lost to you last year, because at that time I had not {played} for five years.
  • But I have {had sufficient practice} since last year until now.
  • 1
    thanks for your time, but your answer doesn't quite seem to fit my question. – Jackrina Aug 15 '14 at 9:31
  • You're kidding. My answer provides the view to the foundation of why and when to use past vs present. Time of reference is the only reason when to use past perfect vs present perfect. You have to stick to the principles of grammar behind past vs present perfect, rather than willy-nilly feeling. – Blessed Geek Aug 15 '14 at 13:01

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