Here is my sentence of which I am having some troubles ascertaining the grammatical correctness:

I think that Rachel has told Brady that Bert would admit to the judge what he has taught about evolution was a fraud.

First, because I am talking about the content of a book, I use present perfect. however, I am not too sure when to use past perfect, with words such as "taught", and "told".

Second, I use "would" instead of will because Rachel's action of telling technically already happened (even though I am using present participle).

Third and lastly, I used "was" for the same reason I did for the second one.

  • They're three independent verb choices, any of which could be flipped without affecting the others. Present perfect has told more strongly implies this thought has more relevance to time of utterance than simple past would. The past/modal would implies more doubt than present/future will as to whether the admission will actually be made. And present tense is a fraud would again more strongly invoke the current situation (perhaps because the speaker strongly denounces Bert's false teaching, past or present). May 11, 2015 at 0:51
  • Your use of terms has me confused. In "has told" and "has taught", I think that "told" and "taught" are usually called "past participle" (though I wish we could call them "perfect participles"). Is that what you mean? Given that you've used perfect "have", you really have to use the appropriate participle after it. And then you say you're using a "present participle", but that's a form in -ing. I don't see any present participle in your example. And it might be good to have some clarity about who it is that characterizes what Bert taught as being about evolution -- is it Bert, or Rachel?
    – Greg Lee
    May 11, 2015 at 0:53
  • @FumbleFingers But Bert taught it in the past. The action was done before he was thrown into the jail. What do you mean by "relevance to time"? May 11, 2015 at 0:58
  • @GregLee, this is actually base on the book Inherit the Wind. The people of Hillsboro all condemn it as a fraud. I edited btw. May 11, 2015 at 1:02
  • I said Present Perfect (had told) has more relevance to [the] time of utterance (i.e. - the time when you the speaker were saying what you think). If you say Bert married my sister, you might be talking about something that happened years or decades ago, and it might not be particularly relevant to the current situation. But if you say Bert has married my sister, the implication is they married recently, and/or it's a matter of interest to you and/or whoever you're talking to right now. May 11, 2015 at 15:03

1 Answer 1


Keep in mind, what these tenses are. Unfortunately, these tenses are rather confusingly named, for learners:

"present perfect" : describes an event in the past. Formed with the present of "to have" + past participle of verb. ex: "I have seen the movie".

"past perfect" : describes an event further in the past. Formed with the past of "to have" + past participle of verb. ex: "I had (already) seen the movie, when my sister called me".

So, in your example:

"...what he has taught..." (present perfect) -- implies that he has been teaching something, in the past; that is, sometime before now. Maybe he still is, maybe he isn't.

"...what he had taught..." (past perfect) -- implies that he taught something in the more distant past, and probably stopped teaching it some time ago.

"...what he taught..." (simple past) -- also works. very similar meaning to using the present perfect; sounds to a native ear like the teaching has probably stopped.

All three possibilities are correct, but they convey a slightly different picture of what's going on.

In your second question: your reasoning about using "would" is correct.

In your third question, "was" or "is" both would work fine. "Was" shows that it was wrong (in the past); "is" would show that it is considered wrong (now). Both convey the wrongness of the teaching.

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