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There is a song by John Lennon called "Nobody Told Me". It goes like this:

Nobody told me there'd be days like these / Strange days indeed

As ESL learners we are told that in the presence of a negation present perfect should be used. The reason that is usually given is that simple past is only acceptable when you can pin a specific point of time to the event in question, which is not possible in presence of a negation simply because the event has never happened.

Considering that, one should expect the lyrics to read:

Nobody's told me ...

Of course, I'm aware of the fact that John Lennon, being a native speaker, is unlikely to have gotten his tenses wrong ... but still, it would be nice if somebody could come up with an explanation for it.

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    As ESL learners, you were told lies (or more accurately, drastic oversimplifications of English grammar). I don't think any native English speaker would use Nobody's told me in that sentence. – Peter Shor Jul 10 '16 at 12:11
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    1. Song lyrics do not always use standard English - for reasons of rhyme & meter. 2. As you're an English Learner, you may find our sister site English Languages Learners more suitable for your questions. – TrevorD Jul 10 '16 at 12:11
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    You can actually have a specific point of time in a negation. For example, "I didn't pack a jacket." This sentence refers to a specific point of time—when he packed—which is why this sentence uses the simple past. – Peter Shor Jul 10 '16 at 12:24
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    But there are other situations you use simple past in a negation. In the sentence "Nobody warned me it would be this cold in San Francisco," the warning would only be useful up to the time he packed. Since the time frame doesn't extend to the present, you use the simple past and not the present perfect. I think that's what's going on in the OP's sentence. – Peter Shor Jul 10 '16 at 12:26
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The fact that song lyrics don't always use proper grammar is part of this - artistic license with the language.

However, the bigger part is that while English has incredibly over complicated grammar and syntax, it's also readily understood when most of the rules are thrown out the window.

I actually wrote my thesis on this topic, and it's pretty interesting.

English tends to evolve more quickly than most other modern languages, in part because its used by so many non-native speakers as a common tongue. Even still, an American, a Brit, and an Australian all natively speak English, and we all typically understand one another, but we use considerably different methods of speech and break the "rules" in different ways.

The short version is this: knowing the grammar and syntax is important, but you're likely to find that almost nobody actually uses them all all of the time. Not even writers or professors or English majors. :)

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    But John Lennon's lyrics are perfectly fine grammar. – Peter Shor Jul 14 at 13:40
  • “Perfectly fine” grammar and “correct” grammar are not the same thing. Native English speakers use “perfectly fine” but incorrect grammar all the time, even learned and well-versed native speakers. In part, this is due to the malleability of English - both a blessing and a curse, so to speak. – Jesse Williams Jul 14 at 13:59
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    As I said in my comments above, in the sentence "I didn't pack a jacket; nobody told me it would be this cold in San Francisco," using the present perfect would actually be wrong. I don't see why the simple past would be correct in that sentence, and incorrect in John Lennon's sentence. – Peter Shor Jul 15 at 1:28
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As ESL learners we are told that in the presence of a negation present perfect should be used. The reason that is usually given is that simple past is only acceptable when you can pin a specific point of time to the event in question, which is not possible in presence of a negation simply because the event has never happened.

Regardless of where you were "told" about this preposterous lie, you're wrong. The very existence of auxiliary verb contractions such as wasn't, weren't and didn't clearly shows that you can negate the simple past form of the verb.

Moreover, your example is not even verbal negation. The negator nobody is the subject of the sentence.

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