The goal is to convey the idea that a story undergoes a change every time it is retold and that this pattern of modifying the story when retelling it began in the past and continues to this moment. There seem to be two ways to do it:

Example 1:
Syria Truth’s original ruse has been enriched with new details every time it has been retold by journalists.
[Present Perfect Continuous is used both times]
Source: http://carnegie-mec.org/diwan/53995

Example 2:
The story has [been] changed every time it was retold until it has become so skewed that the solar sister feel they need to retell it correctly.
[concurrence is expressed using Present Perfect/Present Perfect Continuous and Past Continuous]
Source: https://www.fimfiction.net/story/355536/the-true-battle-for-harmony

So, should it be "every time it was retold" or "every time it has been retold"?

My intuition tells me "has been" makes more sense but it would be great if someone could recall a specific rule that can be applied here or at least provide a logical argument why "was" or "has been" is correct / preferable is this situation.

  • None of your examples use the Present Perfect Continuous. Look that up on the web. You're applying that wrong in your question and to the constructions your sentences use. Commented Nov 7, 2017 at 12:31
  • Specifically, who could ever tell? “… blah… has been enriched with new details every time it has been retold…” “… blah… has [been] changed every time it was retold until it has become so skewed that… blah…” Whether you need "every time it was…” or "every time it has been retold" depends on what you mean. What do you mean, there, please? Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 20:29

2 Answers 2


I would advise writing this in the present tense, or what is sometimes referred to as literary present.

Syria Truth's original ruse is enriched with new details every time it is retold by journalists.

Literary Present, from Revelle College:

Literary works, paintings, films, and other artistic creations are assumed to exist in an eternal present. When you are writing about writers or artists as they express themselves in their work, stay in present tense. Here are some examples:

Aeschylus' drama is concerned with what happens to Orestes after he has killed his mother.

In Michelangelo's painting, Christ judges the world.

Johnson's characters journey to Cairo.

Plato argues without much conviction.

Paul writes about the hardships he has endured.

In your example, the work may not be fiction, but it seems to me to fit in the category of literary works in the sense that literary present tense would seem to be quite natural.

  • 1
    Well, I also considered using Present Tense however what bothers me is that while acknowledging that the story is distorted every time its recalled, it does not call attention to the fact that the process of changing the story when recalling it began in the past and continues to this moment (as I said in the original question), so such wording does not stress continuity. So, if I need to say something along the line of "For 15 years this story has been changed every time it has been recalled" there is no way to get around using Present Perfect [Continuous].
    – betty
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 3:48

You are a grammatical purist! Using "every time [that] it is told" implies that the retelling began in the past and could or will continue. Also, what you call the present perfect continuous is what some would call the pluperfect. Continuous tenses, I thought, used the present participle (the ing form). Forgive me if I am in error as you really seem to be a better grammarian than I will ever be.

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