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I have a question about the present perfect and present simple. Here's a sample dialogue.

A: "I can't find my umbrella. Have you seen it?"
B: "It might be in the car."

Why don't we use the "might have been" instead of "might be"?

And here is another dialogue.

A: "The man you spoke to - are you sure he was American?"
B: "No, I'm not sure. He might not have been American."

Why don't we use the "might not be" instead of "might not have been"?

3 Answers 3

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A: "I can't find my umbrella. Have you seen it?"
B: "It might be in the car."

In the above sentence, the umbrella may still be in the car. This 'incident' of umbrella's 'being' in the car is still a possibility. Hence the usage of present tense. (Please bear with me, if it does not make sense now).[1]

A: "The man you spoke to - are you sure he was American?"
B: "No, I'm not sure. He might not have been American."

In the above sentence, this 'situation' where he was 'being' an American is something that may not have happened i.e. he was not actually an American and hence the usage of present perfect.[2]

To sum it up

  • The umbrella may still be in the car, it's a possibility, hence present tense.

  • The situation where the guy was pretending (or not) to be an American has happened (and completed) in the past, hence present-perfect.

Let me know, in the comments, how I fared.

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A: "I can't find my umbrella. Have you seen it?"

This is definitely idiomatic, but it does include two time-frames, present (I can't find) and past (though recent, of course) (Have you seen).

B: "It might be in the car."

addresses the present situation, and is the standard answer.

B: "It might have been in the car."

is not incorrect, and might be paraphrased as "You know, I think I remember seeing it in the car." It refers back to a situation in the recent past when B was in or near the car.

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A: "The man you spoke to – are you sure he was/is American?"

are both idiomatic. Assuming the man still to be alive, they are interchangeable, one focussing on the past context, and one on the continuing state (if he was American, he still is American).

The answer will typically follow the form of the question as regards tense.

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"Can, could, may and might" specify possibility degrees too. You can assume degrees like that; can < could < may < might. I mean "might" has the highest possibility.

In first case He/She is at present time. So answer with the highest possibility at that time.

Second case is at different tense which is simple past. "Might" past form of "may". You can use just like this; "might + have + (Verb 3)".

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