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I have issue understanding why the sentence below is correct.

Despite having studied extensively for the exam, the students always perform poorly because the teacher makes a poor test.

I believe it should be:

1) Despite having studied extensively for the exam, the students performed poorly because the teacher made a poor test

OR

2) Despite having studied extensively for the exam, the students had performed poorly because the teacher made a poor test

I don't see why "having studied" can coexist with "always perform" and "makes". Thank you!

  • Could you provide some background for the original sentence (where it's from, for example)? It indeed sounds weird to me. – MadWard Jun 9 '16 at 6:12
  • Despite having studied English for 10 years, I am still not very good at English. Does it make sense to you? – user140086 Jun 9 '16 at 6:17
  • Hi, Thanks Rathony. I saw this from a SAT prep book for 2400. – Crispy Kreme Fan Jun 9 '16 at 6:18
  • A follow up Question - is "always perform" correct? I feel at odds with "always" being included in the sentence. – Crispy Kreme Fan Jun 9 '16 at 6:24
  • re: *I don't see why "having studied" can coexist with "always perform" and "makes". * -- can you cite a source that makes you think so? What could be the possible error you see in the structure? – Kris Jun 9 '16 at 8:13
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The reason why it can sound weird is that a perfect ing-form of the verb doesn't have so much to do with the time as one might expect - perfect doesn't refer the action to the past. What it does show is the idea of the result, the fact that the action has been completed. Such forms of the verb as ing-form (participle or gerund) and infinitive, no matter perfect or not, can be easily combined with any tense forms of the verb.
So the meaning of the given sentence can be formulated this way: "no matter how hard the students have studied, they can still fail at the exam."

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    Well, maybe not easily in all cases. There's a semantic clash with the absolute construction in the perfect aspect referring to a main clause in the enduring present. An aggravating factor is that the definite article in the exam doesn't fit with always perform poorly. How many times can you fail one exam? Upvote nonetheless for drawing the distinction between the aspect of completion of a nonfinite verb and past tense of a finite one. – deadrat Jun 9 '16 at 8:25
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It does sound weird, but I think that the sentence creator is using exam as one specific exam that is repeated, year in and out, by the same teacher and in the same subject--though the students would likely change from year to year.

Since it's a SAT question, let's switch it up and see if it makes more sense:

Despite having studied extensively for the SATs, the students always perform poorly because the test-preparer makes a poor test.

While it would probably sound a lot better if we used the plural for test- preparer "test-preparers," it wouldn't hurt the sentence if we imagined there was only one test-preparer as is the situation in the original example.

So odd, yes. Wrong, no.

  • This makes more sense when you frame it that way. One problem I have with it, is that "having studied extensively" modifies only that particular group of students who studied for that year's SAT, not any group who studies for the SAT. Am I correct in thinking this way? – Crispy Kreme Fan Jun 9 '16 at 6:48
  • Using your example and changing students to "I": Despite having studied for the SATs for 20 years, I always perform poorly. I feel like I want to change "always" to "still" Despite having studied for the SATs, I still perform poorly. Would you say that "always" is grammatically correct here? – Crispy Kreme Fan Jun 9 '16 at 6:51
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    Usually when always is used in this way, it is to emphasize a situation that despite your best, or worst, efforts remains unchanged. Examples would be, "I ski drunk, but I'm always the first one down the hill." or "I train ten hour a day, but I always lose." – Genxthis Jun 9 '16 at 7:11

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