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From a grammatical point of view, I'm trying to understand the use of these tenses in the "when" clause. I'll give you an example. All of these example sentences are from native English speakers, both AmE and BrE:

  1. Have you ever visited the Louvre when you were in Paris?

  2. Have you ever seen a yellow butterfly when you were looking for a white butterfly?

  3. Have you ever visited the Louvre when you have been in Paris?

    Source: WordReference.com

  4. Senator Kaine: I have heard Hillary Clinton say over and over again, when I've been sitting next to her and when I've watched her on TV that, with respect to the e-mails, "I made a mistake and I've learned something and I wouldn't do it again.", and I've heard her apologize.

    Source: COCA/SPOK: MEET THE PRESS 10:30 AM EST. Donald Trump`s Tough Week; Interview with Sen. Tim Kaine

So, from what I've found out from native English speakers, some of them assert that these sentences are grammatically incorrect, while others assert that they are completely acceptable. We're talking about the repeated past events.

Could someone explain from a grammatical POV, are these sentences correct and, if so, what is the difference between them and how should I use them?

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  • Americans often prefer simple past rather than past perfect or continous.
    – Barmar
    Feb 8 at 10:18
  • 1
    I'd use [1'] Have you ever visited the Louvre when in Paris? or [1"] Did you ever visit the Louvre when you were in Paris? (not [1] or [3]) [2] and [4] sound quite natural; the change from 'when I've been sitting next to her' to 'when I've watched her on TV' conveys the switch from chance to intentional audience. ['audience' M-W sense 4] Feb 8 at 13:50
  • @Edwin Ashworth What do you mean by the change? He said: "when I've been sitting next to her and when I've watched her on TV". I don't see any change.
    – MickeyQ
    Feb 8 at 15:08
  • Contrast 'When I've sat next to her and when I've been watching her on TV' which is suboptimal imo. Feb 8 at 15:39
  • Honestly any of these are understandable, which is what really matters.
    – barbecue
    Feb 8 at 21:59

3 Answers 3

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  • Have you ever visited the Louvre when you have been in Paris?
  • Senator Kaine: I have heard Hillary Clinton say over and over again, when I've been sitting next to her and when I've watched her on TV that, with respect to the e-mails, "I made a mistake and I've learned something and I wouldn't do it again.", and I've heard her apologize.

The present perfect is not usual in this context.

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For the question of deciding between the past perfect and the simple past, there exist a clear-cut guide line to be found in PEU (Practical English Usage, Michael Swann, second edition), § 421, 5; it indicates that the simple past is more natural in those sentences.

The past perfect can help to mark the first action as separate, independent of the second, completed before the second. In contrast, the simple past can suggest that the first action 'leads into' the other, or that there is a cause-and-effect link between them. Compare:

  • When I had opened the window I sat down and had a cup of tea.
    (NOT "When I opened the window I sat down…")
  • When I opened the windows the cat jumped out.
    (More natural than "When I had opened the windows…")
  • When I had written my letters I did some gardening.
    (NOT "When I wrote my letters I did some gardening.")
    When I wrote to her she came at once.

Because the action of being in Paris leads to the visit (second action) and the action of sitting next to her and the action of watching her on TV lead into the action of hearing Hilary Clinton say something, the singled out sentences above should be rewritten as follows.

  • Have you ever visited the Louvre when you were in Paris?
  • Senator Kaine: I have heard Hillary Clinton say over and over again, when I was sitting next to her and when I watched her on TV that, with respect to the e-mails, "I made a mistake and I've learned something and I wouldn't do it again.", and I've heard her apologize.
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  • Past perfect is one of the few he didn't ask about...
    – Lambie
    Feb 8 at 18:33
  • Five upvotes for this? Hmm.
    – Lambie
    Feb 10 at 19:13
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I find your sentence marginal bordering on unidiomatic. "when you were in Paris" establishes a past time frame, and thus the question should be "Did you ever" not "Have you ever".

Have you ever visited the Louvre when you were in Paris?

Did you ever visit the Louvre when you were in Paris?

"when you have been in Paris" can serve as a semantic bridge between present and past:

I don't believe there's a word of truth in what you are saying about the sunlight on the cathedral. Both times you've been in Paris it was during a thunderstorm with unrelenting dark cloud.

This would be idiomatic given that bridge:

I've been to Paris a couple of times on business but couldn't do any sightseeing. I flew in and flew out with nothing but meetings all day. Have you ever visited the Louvre when you've been in Paris?

So even though I rejected it above, with "when you were in Paris", standing alone bare naked as it was, wholly without context, striking the sentence out, when placed in an appropriate context it can become idiomatic with a shift of tense in the when-clause.

With respect to the past continuous, it isn't as confined to the past as completely as the simple past is; to my ear the following is idiomatic:

I was out looking for edible mushrooms this morning and found nothing but toadstools. Have you ever found nothing but toadstools when you were looking for mushrooms?

So, with questions involving the nuances of tenses, context is king.

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  • Thanks for the answer! So, you wouldn't use the first one in any context?
    – MickeyQ
    Feb 8 at 16:35
  • Have you ever visited the Louvre when you were in Paris? is completely idiomatic. Have you ever eaten rum cakes when you fancied something sweet?
    – Lambie
    Feb 8 at 18:32
  • @MickeyQ: If, in context, "Have you ever visited the Louvre when you were in Paris?" refers to multiple visits to Paris, such that the question could be paraphased "Did you visit the Louvre on any of your visits to Paris?", then you could mix the tenses in that way. But I find that hybrid mix to be not fully idiomatic -- not ungrammatical but not perfectly idiomatic. Native speakers can have differerent senses of where the deepest channel of the idiomatic river lies.
    – TimR
    Feb 8 at 19:54
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    @TimR From what I've learned here, Have you ever visited the Louvre when you've been in Paris? also refers to multiple visits to Paris and both sentences are idiomatic, as well as the other sentences discussed. So, it's just about a speaker's preference which one to choose. Thanks a lot, everyone!
    – MickeyQ
    Feb 9 at 8:54
  • @MickeyQ You have to judge from context. "When you were a kid", for example, refers to a span of time, a past period in one's life, and so this, to my ear, is not idiomatic: "Have you ever been to a professional baseball game when you were a kid?" The idiomatic version of that question is "Did you ever go to a professional baseball game when you were a kid?"
    – TimR
    Feb 9 at 14:55
1

The sample sentences below are completely idiomatic in English:

  • Have you ever visited the Louvre when you have been in Paris?

is idiomatic but a native speaker would tend to say it this way:

  • Have you ever visited the Louvre when you've been in Paris?

  • Have you ever seen a yellow butterfly when you were looking for a white one? COMPARE

  • Do you ever see yellow butterflys when you are looking for white ones? Both are grammatical.

British Council
We also use it [the present perfect] to talk about life experiences, as our life is also an unfinished time period. We often use never in negative sentences and ever in questions.

I've worked for six different companies.
He's never won a gold medal.
Have you ever been to Australia?

use of the present perfect from the British Council

Senator Kaine: I have heard Hillary Clinton say over and over again, when I've been sitting next to her and when I've watched her on TV that, with respect to the e-mails, "I made a mistake and I've learned something and I wouldn't do it again.", and I've heard her apologize.

  • all of those are unspecified as to when they occurred. A speaker referring to an unspecified time in the past in relation to the present time of speaking often makes use of the present perfect and present prefect continuous (for an action verb) precisely because it is not a finished or past action with a time adverbial, stated or implied.

The senator claims she said: I made a mistake. That's right grammatically. She made a mistake at a specific moment in the past and this simple past usage can, but does not require, using a time adverbial such as last week, two years ago etc. It is merely a finished thing in the past.

More from that British Council link:
Finished time and states
If we say when something happened, or we feel that that part of our life is finished, we use the past simple.

We visited Russia for the first time in 1992.
I went to three different primary schools.
Before she retired, she worked in several different countries.

In sum, it is perfectly natural in connected speech (and in writing) to use a simple past and past perfect in a series of utterances or even in a single utterance. In other words, it is fine to mix them up if warranted by the speaker's intention.

  • I've just finished answering this question [now]. I've been answering it for the last ten minutes. How did I do?

Are the above statements grammatical in a series? Answer: Yes, they are.

When I went to Paris, I saw him.

When I saw him, I was riding my bike.

When I 've gone to Paris, I've seen him.

When I was riding my bike, I saw him.

When I've been riding my bike around town, I 've seen him.

I think I've covered most of them.

[Please note: This is not a comprehensive answer for the present prefect.]

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  • All credits to you @Lambie! What a great answer! Other answers aren't less great too. What is your opinion about the [1] and the [2]?
    – MickeyQ
    Feb 8 at 16:02
  • @MickeyQ Whoops, I forgot the continuous one. But I already answered 1).
    – Lambie
    Feb 8 at 16:13
  • @ Lambie I don't see it!
    – MickeyQ
    Feb 8 at 16:21
  • @MickeyQ You've now changed your question so it's a bit difficult to figure out every single combination.
    – Lambie
    Feb 8 at 18:28

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