I'm trying to construct a sentence that conveys the meaning that a second party was possible confused at some point in the past but not anymore.

Typically for verbs, a past tense would be perfect (heh.) but in this case "You may be confused" seems to indicate that the possibility that the second party is currently confused.

Would "You may have been confused" be more appropriate in this case?

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  • Yes, you got it exactly right. Separate from that, I think this question is a better fit for our site dedicated to experts in learning English as a foreign language, English Language Learners. This site, EL&U, is more focused on the academic study of English; theoretical stuff, not practical matters. – Dan Bron Aug 22 '17 at 13:04
  • @DanBron Thanks for the answer and the tip; Though I'd like to point out that English is my first language :) – Yiyuan Lee Aug 22 '17 at 13:14
  • If English is your first language, why are you confused about the use of the past vs the past perfect? Native speakers know intuitively when one or the other is called for; most people don't even know what "past perfect" means, but they still use it ... perfectly. Whence your doubts? – Dan Bron Aug 22 '17 at 13:16
  • @DanBron I was in the middle of preparing a speech and realized I have never been paying much attention to classifying things as "past", "past perfect", etc, and got a bit confused when I tried to construct the sentence while paying attention to the categorization of the words. – Yiyuan Lee Aug 22 '17 at 13:20
  • 1
    Yes; staring too long at something sometimes does cause it to lose coherence in our minds! I'd say, as a native speaker, don't bother studying tenses: you know how to use them properly already. Go with your instinct. Then set he speech down for a day or two and re-read it. For a very important speech, get an independent reviewer or editor: preferably one who is not afraid to tell you hard truths. – Dan Bron Aug 22 '17 at 13:23

You may be confused about the whole concept of deliberative democracy. (You are confused right now, you require further explanation.)
You may have been confused about the whole concept of deliberative democracy. (You are not confused anymore, someone has probably already explained it.)

Simple as that.

  • No; this is the passive vs participial adjective ambiguity. Not as simple as that. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 8 '17 at 23:29
  • @EdwinAshworth Correct me if im wrong, but in both of my sentences I used "confused" as an adjective, not verb. Where do you see the passive form? – user255140 Sep 11 '17 at 18:23
  • The OP is ambiguous. 'Possibly, they confused you' may be represented by 'You may have been confused [by them].' But 'You may have been confused' can also be the predicative adjective usage. OP's use of 'second party' (assuming he/she doesn't mean 'second person') indicates an agent and a patient, hence the passive reading. // The classic ambiguous example is 'the window was broken' (disambiguated by 'by the rock' / ; 'we discovered on arriving'). – Edwin Ashworth Sep 11 '17 at 21:29

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