1

Consider a sentence:

1) The president learned that the earthquake has caused havoc all across the country.

Here present perfect tense is used. First tell me is it correct to use 'has caused' ?

I read once in a grammar book that if the verb in the main clause is in the past tense the the verb in the subordinate clause will also be in the past tense.

So according to this rule it should be 'had caused' instead of 'has caused'.

But at the same time some of them say that if the emphasis is laid on the subordinate clause then present perfect tense can be used. While some say if the emphasis is laid on 'noticing' then past perfect tense to be used. So by this logic one can use present perfect tense as well.

I'm confused.

P.S. -- I'm aware that past perfect tense can be used in every situation but I have no idea when to use present perfect tense in the cases when the verb in the main clause is in the past tense. Help me out.

  • 1
    Is that quote exactly accurate? It does say "learned that earthquake" and not "learned that the earthquake"? I'm going to assume the latter... – Andrew Leach May 10 '15 at 9:56
3

The use of present perfect has caused indicates that the event happened in the recent past and its effects are still current.

Imagine a meeting within the first hour of the earthquake:

We held a meeting in Washington.
The president learned that the earthquake has caused havoc all across the country.
The National Guard was mobilised.

All of those simple verbs describe a particular event which happened instantaneously (held, learned, mobilised). The present perfect indicates that havoc was caused and is still ongoing. Compare to the simple past again:

The president learned that the earthquake caused havoc all across the country.

That sentence indicates an instantaneous event (it caused havoc), but it's not explicit that it's still going on: the havoc may well have been countered by the time that sentence was said.

  • Excellent explanation !Does that mean the tense usage in subordinate clause is independent of tense in main clause ? But my grammar book has mentioned that 'if the verb in the main clause is in the past tense then the verb in the subordinate clause will also be in the past tense.' So by this logic only 'had caused' should be used. Dilemma ! – iamRR May 10 '15 at 13:56
  • And what would you say about - I noticed that the clock has stopped & I realized that I have left my wallet at home ? – iamRR May 10 '15 at 14:02
  • There are several past tenses in English, so if "... the past tense ... " is correct, there must be some context in the book that refers to just one of the tenses. You could use "caused," or "had caused," to describe an event which has now ended. You could use "was causing" to describe an event that was still going on when the president learned about it, but has now ended - for example, if the sentence was in a book about Abraham Lincoln. – alephzero May 10 '15 at 15:50
  • You noticed and realized two events which were completed before you became aware of them. So "has stopped" and "have left" are wrong here, as Andrew Leach explained. "I noticed that the clock stopped" means "I was looking at the clock at the exact moment when it stopped." "I noticed that the clock had stopped" means "I looked at the clock and noticed that it had stopped at an earlier time." – alephzero May 10 '15 at 16:04
  • @alephzero -- Andrew Leach did not mention that the sentence 'I noticed that clock has stopped.' is wrong. What Andrew Leach meant is if the consequence or effect of stopping a clock can be seen or heard then 'has stopped' can be seen. – iamRR May 10 '15 at 18:42

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