First a little history before I pose my question. Without this history my question may not fully make sense.

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia had a stroke in 1995. After this stroke, Crown Prince Abdullah governed in the king's name for about ten years, after which Abdullah officially ascended to the throne until his (Abdullah's) recent death (in January 2015).

An online opinion article referring to Abdullah's reign wrote this:

Since his death on Friday at age 90 and his succession by his half-brother Salman, Abdullah has been praised as a cautious reformer and shrewd politician who shaped Saudi policy for nearly 20 years, after his predecessor had a stroke and Abdullah ruled as crown prince in the king’s name.

My first question: Should the writer instead of writing "who shaped" (past tense) have written "who has shaped" (present perfect) when referring to the recently deceased Abdullah? Or perhaps because Abdullah has died, the writer should have written "had shaped" (past perfect). What's your opinion?

My second question: Since Fahd's stroke occurred before Abdullah's taking power, shouldn't the writer have written "had had a stroke" (past perfect)?

  • It all seems fine to me as written. Your alternatives might be OK, but they don't seem necessary. The shaping took place in the past, so the simple past tense is fine.
    – Barmar
    Jan 28 '15 at 17:11
  • Of all the alternatives, the only one that doesn't work for me is "who has shaped", since the "have" refers to the interval of time during which the shaping happened, but this interval ended with Abdullah's death, a past event, so "have" should be put in the past tense. (StoneyB's answer says something similar.)
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 28 '15 at 19:02

The main clause, which the since phrase modifies, is

Abdullah has been praised ...

That is, the praise has occurred since Abdullah's death: the present perfect is proper.

The sentence moves on to describe what Abdullah has been been praised as. Since this reflects a present perspective on his past accomplishments, casting it in the simple past is fine.

... praised as a cautious reformer who shaped ...

A past perfect would also be acceptable, indicating what Abdullah had accomplished at the time of this death.

... praised as a cautious reformer who had shaped ...

But a present perfect is unacceptable: the present perfect speaks of a present state, and a dead person cannot 'participate' in that state.

The prior eventuality of Fahd's stroke might with propriety have been expressed with a past perfect, but the simple past is also unexceptionable—and simpler:

After his predecessor had a stroke Abdullah shaped Saudi policy for 20 years.

  • thank you for your response. Could you please elaborate a bit more on your last comment concerning the past perfect. When you chose the simple past over the past perfect, your reason for doing so, apparently, was that it is simpler. But isn't that true all of the time? What sentence considerations would you have first needed to note that are lacking in the given sentence that would have caused you instead to choose the past perfect over the "simpler" simple past? Jan 28 '15 at 17:44
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    @FredBailey The basic rule (I call it FumbleFingers' Perfect Truism) is "Don't use Past Perfect unless you really have to". You would have to use past perfect only if your discourse was centered on the past and you needed to 'back up' to mention prior events which contributed to that past context. In this case, however, Abdullah's "shaping" starts at the time of the stroke, and moves forward from there. Jan 28 '15 at 17:57
  • A modifier by-phrase can require a past perfect, unless a pattern of events is being described: "Yesterday by 5 pm, he had taken all his pills", but not *"... he took ...".
    – Greg Lee
    Jan 28 '15 at 19:12

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