I'm Mexican and I have had English class since kindergarden, now I'm in eighth grade in middle school. Some days ago, we had the fourth term English exam, and I was surprised because the teacher had marked one sentence I believed was right, wrong. I was hoping you could help me and tell me if this sentence is wrong or not and why, please.

I've just had a call from the stables to say my horse _______________ (steal) I can't believe that's happened.

(In the blank space I had written "had been stolen" but my teacher said it was "was stolen")

  • 4
    I think "has been stolen" is a better fit. – Andrew Leach Mar 31 '17 at 14:01
  • "Had been" implies that it was the case in the past but no longer is. For example, the horse was stolen but has since been recovered ("stolen" referring more to the state of being absent due to being stolen). "With that same "absent" meaning, "has been stolen" would mean that it was taken and is still missing. "Was stolen" doesn't address the current state of affairs, it treats "steal" as simply the act of stealing. So "was stolen" merely reports that the stealing occurred. (cont'd) – fixer1234 Mar 31 '17 at 20:13
  • The sentence says it just happened and expresses disbelief about the event. Presumably, it was too recent for the horse to have been recovered, and nothing in the sentence addresses the stealing in any kind of ongoing or continuing sense. So "was stolen" would be the choice most consistent with the sentence. – fixer1234 Mar 31 '17 at 20:13

Your teacher is wrong. I would say "had been", but "has been" and "was" are both possible.

(By the way, there is no "continuous" anywhere in your sentences. I suspect you are thinking of "been" as making a continuous form, but here, with the past participle "stolen", it makes a passive).

  • Disagree. The call came from the stables, implying immediacy. This happened recently. Has been stolen is the correct tense. – Jason P Sallinger Apr 1 '17 at 12:00
  • And I disagree with you, @JasonPSallinger. The "just" makes "has been stolen" possible. But it does not rule out "had been stolen", to my ear. – Colin Fine Apr 3 '17 at 10:25

"I've just had a call from the stables to say my horse _______________ (steal) I can't believe that's happened"

The past perfect tense of the verb 'steal' is not suitable in this sentence. It can be either the Simple Past or the Present Perfect tense. "The basic meanings of the Past Perfect tense are 'earlier past' and 'completed in the past'. The Past Perfect is common after past verbs of saying and thinking, to talk about things that had happened before the saying and thinking took place".

In English six different tenses are used to talk about the past:

  1. the Simple Past ( I worked)

  2. the Past Progressive ( I was working)

  3. the Simple Present Perfect ( I have worked)

  4. the Present Perfect Progressive ( I have been working )

  5. the Simple Past Perfect ( I had worked )

  6. the Past Perfect Progressive ( I had been working)

Some English tenses express meanings (e.g. completion, continuation, present importance) which are not expressed by verb forms in all other languages.

We use the Simple Past tense to talk about many kinds of past events: short, quickly finished actions and happenings, longer situations, and repeated events.

In general, the Simple Past tense is the 'normal' one for talking about the past; we use it if we do not have a special reason ( *to express continuation, present importance etc.) for using one of the other tenses.

Perfect forms are used especially when we want to suggest a connection between a past event and the present, or between an earlier and a later past event.

I have worked with children before, so I know what to expect in my new job. (* suggests a connection between past and present)

After I had worked with Jake for a few weeks, I felt I knew him pretty well. (*shows an earlier and a later past events)

I have done the shopping. What shall I do now? (*suggests the completion of an event)

(From Michael Swan's PEU)

*My additions.

  • "Had a call" is the past verb of (implied) saying or thinking which licenses "had been stolen". – Colin Fine Mar 31 '17 at 22:21
  • "Have had a call" is not the (implied) past verb of saying and thinking, it is the to say which is a to infinitive having no tense form. If the sentence were I have just had a call from the stables and they said, the second part would have been my horse had been stolen. – mahmud koya Apr 1 '17 at 0:54
  • koya, you're right that the say is explicitly there: I missed it. But you are wrong to say that just because it is infinitive it cannot license "had been stolen". ... to say my horse had been stolen is perfectly good, if the matrix verb established a past context. – Colin Fine Apr 3 '17 at 10:22

Present perfect progressive tense describes an action that began in the past, continues in the present, and may continue into the future. This tense is formed by using has/have been and the present participle of the verb (the verb form ending in -ing).Sep 22, 2000 Verb Tenses - Literacy Education Online - St. Cloud State University

This crime has been reported just now from the stable. We can assume a sense of immediacy. There is a chance the crime can be stopped.

The correct tense is 'has been stolen". As seen here, this tense is used to convey something that recently occurred and in this case, is still an active criminal matter.


Between Has Been and Had Been I would suggest 'Had Been' since Has been implies the action is not over and in this scenario that is not the case.

Having said that, if the war were assumed to be won by 'Had Been', I would also consider 'was stolen' since Had been again suggests that the action is going on but 'was stolen' is firm that the horse was stolen and that was the end of that.

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