2

I'm a native English speaker and for some reason the following dialogue sounds wrong, but I don't know why:

A: "I think this is a new episode!"

B: "Yeah, I had not seen it before"

I think B should have said: "I have not seen it before" but I don't know why. Am I right? If so, why?

  • What B said was not necessarily wrong, but have is more likely to be heard in that situation, yes, unless B were trying to emphasize a specific time relationship. – Robusto Dec 13 '14 at 18:06
4
+50

As other answers have already suggested, B's sentence is in the past perfect tense (or past tense with perfect aspect), which is formed by taking the past tense form of the verb "have" ("had") followed by the past participle of the main verb. The past perfect is used with two different moods:

Past Perfect + Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive mood in conjunction with the past perfect has a couple specific uses in English, which I will outline below.

  1. Conditional sentences. The past perfect is used in conditional sentences to express a hypothetical, counterfactual circumstance. In these constructions the condition clause (directly after "if") is in a past time frame, and the main clause (the consequence) is in a past, present, or future time frame. For example:

    If I had heard the phone ring, I would have answered it.

    If the economy hadn't declined so quickly, he would already have a job now.

    Besides simply placing the word "if" before the conditional clause, the conditional clause can also be formed by inversion of the subject and main verb of the sentence.

    Had I heard the phone ring, I would have answered it.

    Had the economy not declined so quickly, he would already have a job now.

    Both of these constructions is not the same as B's sentence, so it clearly cannot fall under this usage.

  2. Expressions of wish. As in conditional sentences, the past perfect is used here to express a counterfactual past state or past action.

    I wish I had not made such a stupid mistake.

    However, this usage only applies after certain verbs or expressions, such as "wish", "if only", "would rather", etc. In B's sentence, there is no such expression, so B's sentence does not correspond with this usage.

There are a few other cases where the subjunctive mood might be used with the past perfect. One example is given here from Wikipedia:

In that case the dogs would find the scent that you had left.

In all of these cases, the past perfect is used to show a counterfactual, hypothetical situation, and is always used with some sort of phrase ("if", "suppose", "wish [that]", "would rather", "in that case", etc.). As far as I know, the subjunctive mood is never used in such a simple sentence like the one B uses:

Yeah, I had not seen it before.

If B were to add "I wish" or "if" (along with a consequence) at the beginning of the sentence, then it would be correct. For example:

Yeah, I wish I had not seen it before.

Yeah, if I had not seen it before, I would be as excited as you.

Past Perfect + Indicative Mood

The past perfect in conjunction with the indicative mood is the most common use of the past perfect and is used to refer "to an event that took place prior to the time frame being considered. This time frame may be stated explicitly, as a stated time or the time of another past action." In this case, since the two have no explicit time frame, the only possible way B's sentence can work is if there is an implicit time frame in mind. For such an implicit time frame, we need context.

If the two have not yet started or are in the middle of the episode, there doesn't seem to be any available implicit reference time frame in the past, in which case B's sentence cannot correspond to the indicative mood usage. However, if the two have already finished the episode, then there is a time frame in mind. This time frame is the implicit time frame of the now past action of them watching the episode. Consequently, if the two have already finished watching the episode, then B's sentence has no problem grammatically.

Now, I will point out that based on A's comment ("I think this is a new episode!"), it seems doubtful that the two have already finished the episode, but my point is that there is no grammatical error if the two have already finished the episode.

Present Perfect

Finally, the present perfect form ("I have not seen it before.") is correct if the two have not yet finished the episode, because B is talking about an experience that he has not had before. (See here for a simple explanation of the uses of the present perfect.)

Conclusion

In conclusion, the past perfect form ("Yeah, I had not seen it before.") is correct if the two have already finished the episode, and the present perfect form ("Yeah, I have not seen it before.") is correct if the two have not yet finished the episode.

  • If the two have just finished the episode, i think both the past and the present perfect form work. – Peter Shor Aug 12 '17 at 10:28
7

In the particular instance raised by the OP, the suitability of B's wording depends on contextual details not provided in the posted question, and on how narrowly we define the word new. If the episode that A and B are watching is being broadcast for the first time on the occasion when they are watching and talking about it, and if new means "never broadcast previously," then B cannot have seen the episode before, and "I have not seen it before" is the normal (and correct) wording.

On the other hand, if the episode that A and B are watching and discussing has only recently become available for viewing—as a streaming file from the Internet, for example—and if new is understood to include the sense "first made available for viewing in the very recent past," then B might have seen the episode earlier on the same day that A and B are watching it (for example), in which case it would be appropriate for B to say "I had not seen it before," where before points to the earlier viewing—that is, where before is short for "before I saw it earlier today."

3

Your feeling that, “I HAD NOT seen it before,” sounds wrong is absolutely correct. "HAD NOT" in this dialogue is wrong.

“HAD NOT seen,” is the Past Perfect tense of “to see.” It refers to an action that was completed prior to some point in time or to some event that occurred in the past.

“I HAVE NOT seen it before,” is the Present Perfect tense of “to see.” It is a compound tense and refers to an action that has (or in this case, HAS NOT) occurred prior to the PRESENT time.

A: "I think this is a new episode!"

B: "Yeah, I haven’t seen it before." (“Yeah, I have not seen it before NOW.”)

Without mention of some past event, prior to which the two are referencing as a point before which B would have seen the episode, the only tense that is appropriate for usage in this dialogue is the Present Perfect tense. The Past Perfect tense, “HAD NOT seen” has no valid place in this dialogue and is incorrect.

Irrealis mood and Subjunctive mood play no role in this dialogue.

Nor does it matter whether or not the two have begun watching the episode in question.

The Present Perfect tense is formed by combining the auxiliary verb “has” (singular) or “have” (plural) with the past participle.

The Past Perfect tense is formed by combining the auxiliary verb “had” with the past participle.

  • 2
    There is not enough context included to say with any level of certainty whether it is wrong or not. And while it's true that it doesn't matter whether they've begun watching the episode, it does matter whether they've finished watching it. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 9 '17 at 9:25
1

When B says "Yeah, I had not seen it before" it implies that B's first viewing was earlier than the present moment, although also recent. B is responding to A's claim that it's a "new" episode, and agreeing.

0

If I am at a meeting I would say to someone: "I have not had the chance to introduce myself." A day later I would say: "I had not had the chance to introduce myself." It's easier to understand if you don't use "have" twice. "I have not seen the motorcyclist." After the accident: "I had not seen the motorcyclist."

0

I think this is a new episode would be fine if it meant A was watching it right then, looking at the disk or reading the programme schedule.

I had not seen it before clearly includes both the implication and now I have and the sense recently.

I have not seen it before both states that B hasn’t seen it and implies that he is about to see it for the first time.

0

The sentence I think this is a new episode! is written in the present tense. Therefore, the answer is in present perfect: I have never seen it before. If it were expressed in the simple past tense: I thought this was a new episode, the past perfect I had never seen before" would have been the correct tense.

Accordingly:

"I think this is a new episode I have never seen before*

I thought this was a new episode I had never seen before*

  • Bryce, what makes you think the tense of the original statement constrains the answer to present perfect? Or to anything, come to that? Even a rhetorical question answered by the same speaker, what rule demands matching tenses, please? – Robbie Goodwin Aug 18 '17 at 19:17
  • @ Robbie, there is no rule, other than the present tense and the present perfect are temporally consecutives, or "matching", if you want. – Bryce Aug 22 '17 at 22:14
  • Thanks, Bryce, and even if it worked that way, did you notice, the key word in the Question is before? Either there is a rule, or you need to think again about your prescription. It might be prettier if Speaker B used a matching temporal consecutive but in this case that would be to subordinate… nay, to reject… meaning for a rule you say doesn’t exist. How c that be helpful? A: … this is a new episode can’t limit any response, in grammar or in logic. B: … I had not seen it before implies (I have now) B: I have not seen it before implies (We’re about to) More… – Robbie Goodwin Aug 23 '17 at 20:56
  • Cont… I think this is a new episode I have never seen before can’t be relevant. It’s neither a statement and response nor a question and answer. I thought this was a new episode I had never seen before fails the same way. – Robbie Goodwin Aug 23 '17 at 20:58
  • I did notice the word "before". But have you considered the word "new"? – Bryce Aug 24 '17 at 22:22
0

I think that both 'had' and 'have' are valid for this sentence, but for different definitions of seen.

Preceding sentence in example (for context):

A: "I think this is a new episode!"

Your suggestion:

"I have not seen it before"

Here you're using the word to indicate someone who has viewed the episode (meaning 2) which is related to a visual medium.

Consider the original response:

B: "Yeah, I had not seen it before"

The implication is that B didn't know about the new episode existing earlier. He just found out (meaning 26) about it.

This particular sentence is confusing because it relates to a visual subject and the more common meaning would also be valid. If you change the preceding sentence to be 'I think this is a new song!' then B's original quote would be obviously related to finding out vs viewing.

-1

Perhaps B is not an English native speaker but Latino / Spanish speaker.

Because these three facts I notice:

1- Latinos use to say: "No lo había visto", literally translated into: "I had not seen it". To refer something you have not seen before now.

2- B is using a literal translation from spanish, thus the use of verb "to see" instead of "to watch", which would be more appropriate or correct in this context.

3- There is a subtle inconsistency about the formality in this sentence. Perfect tenses of verbs are used regularly in semi-formal or formal expressions, when tought to Spanish speakers. But in this case B begins the sentence with "Yeah", then uses a past perfect tense which may confirm a literal translation from spanish.

  • Hello, jjy. ELU is not a discussion forum (though relevant asides are usually welcome in 'comments'). OP asks about the correctness or otherwise of the sentence, not about what may have prompted a questionable statement. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 9 '17 at 9:10
  • Also both A and B were native speakers, iirc. – Frew Schmidt Aug 9 '17 at 19:31
  • @EdwinAshworth The original question asks in part why the utterance sounds wrong. I see this answer trying to address that part of the question. We do encourage partial answers as long as they are well reasoned. – MetaEd Aug 11 '17 at 20:21
  • @MetaEd 'Perhaps B is not an English native speaker but Latino / Spanish speaker.' is speculative, unsupported, and investigates parallels with a foreign language. In any case, answering 'Perhaps B is not an English native speaker but Latino / Spanish speaker.' hardly addresses OP's statement 'I'm a native English speaker and for some reason the following dialogue sounds wrong, but I don't know why' and certainly not in a well-reasoned way. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 11 '17 at 21:41

protected by tchrist Jan 7 at 23:12

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