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I know difference between present perfect and simple past clearly. But in the following sentences, which of these tense is more correct logically?

Today was a ridiculous, outrageous,absurd day.Now it's eleven o o'clock at night.I'm sitting in my little room and remembering.It started with my having to go in the morning and play roulette for POLINA .

Today hasn't finished yet. However, the writer has used simple past

Today has been a day of folly, stupidity, and ineptness. The time is now eleven o'clock in the evening, and I am sitting in my room and thinking. It all began, this morning, with my being forced to go and play roulette for Polina Alexandrovna. When she handed me over her store of six hundred gulden I exacted two conditions—namely, that I should not go halves with her in her winnings, if any (that is to say, I should not take anything for myself), and that she should explain to me, that same evening, why it was so necessary for her to win, and how much was the sum which she needed. For, I could not suppose that she was doing all this merely for the sake of money. Yet clearly she did need some money, and that as soon as possible, and for a special purpose. Well, she promised to explain matters, and I departed. There was a tremendous crowd in the gaming-rooms. What an arrogant, greedy crowd it was! I pressed forward towards the middle of the room until I had secured a seat at a croupier's elbow. Then I began to play in timid fashion, venturing only twenty or thirty gulden at a time. Meanwhile, I observed and took notes. It seemed to me that calculation was superfluous, and by no means possessed of the importance which certain other players attached to it, even though they sat with ruled papers in their hands, whereon they set down the coups, calculated the chances, reckoned, staked, and—lost exactly as we more simple mortals did who played without any reckoning at all.

These sentences are from two existing translation of the gambler by Dostoyevsky. According to the below explanation, the person with whom the history has business must be in a new mood and have forgotten the day perfectly. But I have brought the next sentences. As you see, the person is thinking about the day. Now, can you say that which translator has made a mistake?

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    Why do you think one or the other of the translators (has) made a mistake? Do you think it is impossible for both past and past perfect to be grammatical in the same sentence? If you think that, which one is wrong in the first sentence of my comment? – Peter Shor May 6 '16 at 21:32
  • The difference is nothing to do with logic. It is about how the speaker is choosing to refer to the temporal structure of events. – Colin Fine May 6 '16 at 23:59
  • Since it’s night, the day is clearly over. I’d be more concerned about “ridiculous, outrageous,absurd” vs “folly, stupidity and ineptness” – Jim Jul 5 '16 at 22:13
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The simple past expresses an action that started and finished at a specific time in the past. So, if you say

Today was a ridiculous, outrageous, absurd day. Now it's eleven o o'clock at night.

it means that what was ridiculous, outrageous, and absurd about the day is over, you are putting it behind you, and you are ready to move on.

The present perfect expresses an action that took place at an indefinite time in the past and that still informs the present. So, if you say

Today has been a day of folly, stupidity, and ineptness. The time is now eleven o'clock in the evening

you are saying that the folly, stupidity, and ineptness of the day is still affecting you in the present. Maybe, for example, you are facing a big mess that has resulted from what happened earlier, or maybe you're just tired because of what's happened--the folly itself is done, but its consequences linger. You have not put it behind you.

Mind you, this difference is not always reflected in colloquial speech. It may be that in fact you are over what "has happened" earlier, and yet you use the present perfect rather than the simple past. People speaking, and even writing, do not always think about these fine distinctions. But, in the strictest sense, this is the difference between the two ways of phrasing this.

  • These sentences are from two existing translation of the gambler by Dostoyevsky.according to your explanation ,the person with whom the history has business,must be in a new mood and have forgotten the day perfectly.but I will bring the next sentences.as you see,the person is thinking about the day.Now,can you say that which translator has made a mistake? – Pedi May 6 '16 at 20:40
  • IMO, correct is "Today has been a day of folly, stupidity, and ineptness," because the speaker is reliving the day in the evening--it is still pressing on his mind. But it is important to note that, while we need to be able to trust that a translator understands proper grammar and usage, we needn't assume that a fictional character does. If a character is presented as one who speaks loosely, informally, maybe stumbling over words, then the translator's job is to mimic that. There is nothing unnatural sounding about "today was a day..." even if, strictly speaking, that is improper. – user66965 May 6 '16 at 21:06
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    As @Peter Shor indicates, the line you are trying to draw here is difficult, and either translation can work. These tenses are more important in a case like "He sang in church two years ago" (he doesn't anymore) and "He has sung in church for two years" (he is still doing it)--these two really cannot be mixed up. Your example, on the other hand, it's pretty vague. – user66965 May 6 '16 at 21:53
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You are right. It is more correct to use the present perfect, "Today has been a day of folly, stupidity, and ineptness. ...". The simple past should be used for something that has finished, for example, "Yesterday was a ridiculous, outrageous, absurd day. ..."

Perhaps the mistake was made because the meaning is clear from the use of the word "Today" and a feeling that the ridiculousness, outrageousness, and absurdity of the day had finished, even though the day itself had not.

The use of the correct tense would be clearer in the statements "Monday has been a day of folly, stupidity, and ineptness. ..." and "Monday was a ridiculous, outrageous, absurd day. ..." In the first statement the intent is that it is still Monday and in the second the Monday being referred to was some previous day.

  • If the day being talked about was a Monday and the simple past were used the rest of the paragraph would become a little nonsensical without changes. "Monday was a ridiculous, outrageous, absurd day. It was eleven o'clock that night. I was sitting in my little room and remembering. It started with my having to go that morning and play roulette for POLINA." This reinforces the correctness of using the present perfect. – Byron Aug 2 '17 at 12:26

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