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This sentence is from a English textbook written by an English native speaker:

The show was one of the dullest we have ever seen

Because it used was, the sentence is talking about things in the past. Even if the show was still one of the dullest till now, the viewpoint is in the past, so shouldn’t we use had as follows?

The show was one of the dullest we had ever seen.

Did I misunderstood the grammar rule on tense consistency?

  • I think that you're using past tense progressive, and if so then this is correct? Though I'm not sure about the phrasing of, "we have ever," seen; something makes me think it would make more sense with "we'd," although I couldn't place why the contraction fits better – newt Dec 21 '16 at 19:49
  • this is/was the best meal I have ever had/had had. This is a related question, but I am reluctant to close it as duplicate. – user140086 Dec 21 '16 at 19:51
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    The past perfect is used for an event that is anterior to another past event. The only past event in your sentence is your attendance at the show, so the present perfect "has" is fine. And of course your opinion of shows is on-going, so the "current relevance" of the present perfect seems appropriate here. – BillJ Dec 21 '16 at 20:28
  • @BillJ Always my pleasure. Your answer would be much appreciated. – user140086 Dec 21 '16 at 20:29
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    Just to add a bit to @BillJ 's comment, The present perfect suggests you are continuing to compare the dull one to shows seen more recently. The past perfect indicates that at some point, you ceased making comparisons to others you have seen. – Phil Sweet Dec 22 '16 at 2:02
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No, there is no reason to use "had" instead of "have," at least if this is the complete context.

The tenses are perfectly fine:

  • The show was: Naturally, the show has finished, and was in the past. You can say "The show began (PAST) at 9:00," "The show starred (PAST) my uncle Bernard."

  • However, the status of the list of shows you have seen continues into the present (I have). For example, you say "I have (PRESENT) seen Hamilton twice," even though both viewings occurred in the past.

Try flipping it around, and reading this sentence by itself:

I have/*had seen six shows on Broadway, and this was one of the dullest.

On its own, had is incorrect here, unless you're saying it is no longer one of the dullest (because you've since seen a duller one).

Saying had implies the event in question (seeing) occurred before a referenced time before than the present, using regular past tense implies before the present.

For example, in the sentence I presented above, to say "had," the six shows would have to have occurred before you've seen your seventh show (an implicit second time reference).

As presented here, there is no second time reference, so without further context, it's odd, if not strictly ungrammatical, to use "had."


Of course, there are many ways to make it grammatical to say "had seen." But all these require expansion of the context beyond what was presented.

If you said "had," it would make it sound as if you've seen another, duller show. You could use it in a dialogue like this:

What did you think of Cats?

Well, until I saw Dogs, it was one of the dullest show I had ever seen.

See here that this adds a second time reference (when you saw Dogs), or you can do it as below:

At that point in my life, I had seen six shows on Broadway...

  • At that point in my life I had seen six shows on Broadway... (not obviously incorrect) – Jim Dec 22 '16 at 5:17
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    There's nothing wrong with had in this context, which is the reporting of a past event. It means that the particular show surpassed in dullness all shows previous to the particular show. The present perfect have ever seen includes all subsequent shows in the comparison. – deadrat Dec 22 '16 at 8:45
  • @deadrat In isolation (as was presented), saying "had ever seen" is odd to me. Imagine a review of a Broadway show. No writer would end with just "*The show was one of the dullest [I] had ever seen," unless they went on to describe more recent, duller shows. But that sort information isn't in the question, so using "had" in this context remains ungrammatical to me. Maybe it's a dialectical thing, but you're welcome to add another answer. – Azor Ahai Dec 22 '16 at 19:09
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    @Azor-Ahai I don't know what to do with evidence from personal revelation. If it's odd or ungrammatical to you, that's what it is. But it's easy to check the claim that "[n]o writer would end" with the past perfect. They do, as the Ngram viewer reports on worst we had ever seen. (Sorry, no dullest). As I said above, this is an unremarkable way to indicate a past interval up to and including a past reported event. – deadrat Dec 22 '16 at 20:15
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    @Jim If someone asks "What did you think of the show?" it would be odd to respond with "I had seen six shows, and this was one of the dullest." You can imagine someone asking "What did you think of Cats when you saw it as a young kid?" and respond with "Well, I had only seen six shows, but it was still one of the dullest," but that's just adding more information than was given in the question. I chose to go with the simplest interpretation of the information at hand. – Azor Ahai Dec 22 '16 at 20:30
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Both are correct, but the meaning is different. Consider these two sentences:

  1. It was the best meal I've ever eaten.
  2. It was the best meal I'd ever eaten.

The meal in sentence 1 is better than any other meal I've eaten, before or since. The meal in sentence 2 was the best meal I had eaten up to that time; but I may have eaten better meals since.

If you say

The show was one of the dullest we had ever seen,

you are specifically referring to your judgment at the time you saw the show.

-1

I think I found the reason. For adjective clauses, the tense is not required to be consistent with the main clause.

  • This doesn't provide an answer to the question and reads more like a comment. Please include your research and references that can support your answer. – user140086 Dec 21 '16 at 19:44
  • @StoneyB Oops, you're correct. – Azor Ahai Dec 22 '16 at 0:13

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