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"So I considered carefully what to specialize in at the graduate school, and I met with a professor who had been/(has been) a lot of help to me and sought his advice."

I would like to know, if 'had been' is used in that sentence, it implies that the professor no longer helps me presently, and only helped me in the times of the past. What I think is that it implies that at the time of me meeting with the professor and seeking his advice, if you look to the past from that point, he had been helpful, and it does not consider(convey) anything beyond that point; specically, whether or not he helps beyond that point. But, by the nature of the omission, if someone would ask if the professor is still helpful at current time, after reading that sentence, the answer would be yes.

I would also like to know if 'has been' can be used instead to the same effect (as had been).

Thank you teachers.

Comments  
Hi Mkyol,

You're telling about an incident that happened in the past but that doesn't prevent your using more current information to describe the professor. I think "has been helpful" is the better choice, stressing the ongoing relationship. If you say "had been helpful" it seems to suggest that you weren't really sure whether or not he could still be of help.

The choice of "had been helpful" could mean several things. (1) You wish to keep your story in the past for purposes of suspense. (2) You have in fact not met with the professor since the time you're describing (3) You have called on him for help since that time and he has been unhelpful.

I'm not sure which omission your question refers to. Do you mean if you fail to properly inform your reader of the current situation and do not use the present perfect?

The past perfect doesn't necessarly imply anything about the present, but you can't stop people from trying to read between the lines. (I hope I understand your question.) I believe the answer would be, "I don't know."

Best wishes, - A.
Thanks for the detailed reply Avangi.

"So I considered carefully what to specialize in at the graduate school, and I met with a professor who had been/(has been) a lot of help to me and sought his advice."

I was kind of under the notion that if I use 'has been' in that sentence, it doesn't really agree with the past form of the sentence, so it's somewhat of a bad or maybe unnatural form. I thought that 'had been' acts as kind of past perfect, so the valid area of temporal concern is the time of me meeting and seeking the professor's advice and earlier, and it doesn't concern the present at all, so 'had been' doesn't imply such things as that I haven't met with the professor since that time. But I'm just trying to be 'logical' here, and the true goal is to have correct sense of how the sentence is interpreted by natives.

I used the word 'omission' to describe the supposed fact that 'had been' doesn't convey anything of the future from 'the point' (the point of time of seeking the professor's advice).

I'm describing my thoughts here because (it goes without saying) I have doubts about them and I would like to hear your thoughts.

>> The past perfect doesn't necessarly imply anything about the present, but you can't stop people from trying to read between the lines. (I hope I understand your question.) I believe the answer would be, "I don't know."

Do you mean you don't know if the professor's still helpful at the current time?

Avangi, so there are three suggested possibilities about what is meant by 'had been'. But when a reader reads the sentence, and assume that the sentence is not elaborbated any further to pick out a single possibility later on in the text, what would he think? I don't think different readers have different, arbitrary ideas, do they?

I would also like to hear what other natives think on the subject. It would help solidify my understanding.

Kind thanks.
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These are very interesting questions. The answers would depend somewhat on the type of relationship you wish to create with your reader. If this is clearly expository material and your objective is to accurately convey the facts, then you should go out of your way to avoid ambiguities. You should choose words and grammatical structures which are likely to lead to only one interpretation.

If you're writing a poem and hoping to convey a feeling through the connotative meanings of words, you run the risk that the reader's past experience with the language differs from yours.

If your only aim is to entertain the reader, you may not care what impression he gets as long as he has fun. (Do you ever disagree with friends about the meaning of a movie?)

At this point it's a bit difficult to help, because sometimes we're talking about the facts and sometimes we're talking about the interpretation. My suggestion would be, first, get the facts very clear. What exactly are the facts you wish to convey, including time lines. Don't worry about the grammar. Then, try to make good legal sentences, and we can decide if they do the job.

I know I haven't answered some of your specific questions. - Maybe later.

Best wishes, - A.
Hi Mkyol,
Mkyol"So I considered carefully what to specialize in at the graduate school, and I met with a professor who had been/(has been) a lot of help to me and sought his advice."

I was kind of under the notion that if I use 'has been' in that sentence, it doesn't really agree with the past form of the sentence, so it's somewhat of a bad or maybe unnatural form.As I said elsewhere, I don't believe there's anything wrong with using current information to clarify a past narrative, any more than it would be wrong to use past information to modify a current narrative. Had been and has been both work here.

Tomorrow my wife and I will be having dinner with John Smith, who had been my college roommate until he was expelled for cheating on his exam.

John Smith, who has been a partner in my law firm for thirty years, had been expelled from Harvard Law School for cheating, before finally getting his degree from Yale.

There's nothing wrong with mixing up the tenses, but it's confusing to speculate on how a sentence will be interpreted before you've clearly stated (elsewhere) what you wish to convey (unless you're using an analog computer - or possibly a quantum computer).

That's not to say it can't be done. We get it all the time. What does the following sentence mean?

We've been asking, How do I say ABC?;What does ABC mean?; How might people interpret ABC? - all at the same time.

You mention "the valid area of temporal concern." But what does that mean? Why is there a limit? For a particular clause or phrase with a single verb tense, yes, there's a limit; but there's not a temporal limit for the whole sentence - is there?

Don't forget, context can provide the thorniest problems of all when it comes to temporal relationships. Many words are time-sensitive, so to speak, and changing a noun or adjective in a sentence can make the verbs look rediculous.

More later. Best wishes, - A.

Thanks for the replies Avangi.

You mention "the valid area of temporal concern." But what does that mean? Why is there a limit? For a particular clause or phrase with a single verb tense, yes, there's a limit; but there's not a temporal limit for the whole sentence - is there?

No, you're right that there isn't a temporal limit placed (some limited period in time the sentence can talk about owing to its tense form). I have just recently 'got' (well, almost) about the past perfect tense, and in trying to utilize it whenever I saw a past tense, I tried to temporally combine that with some idea that preceded it(such as 'the professor had been a lot of help before that point), but I mistakenly imposed that it doesn't matter if the idea extends temporally beyond that point to the current time, because the sentence form(of past perfect, and associated segment of sentence) places a 'limited period of temporal concern', so to speak, and doesn't convey or imply anything beyond that area, such as if the professor is of help currently still. I think I may be repeating myself here, and I'm sorry if it gets on your nerves in some way, I guess I'm just trying to rationalize my way through this newfound understanding.

I think I have a better understanding of it now, thanks. Feel free to comment more on the subject though, if you wish.

Edit: Actually, I think there are two issues here. One is whether or not if 'has been' can be 'combined' with a past tense(such as 'was'), and the other issue is on the limits of temporal influence of 'had been'. I believe it is now established that on the first issue, that it can be done. The temporal area of concern specifically is on the second issue, not the first. But I haven't had breakfast or lunch yet so my brain is not functioning as well, so I'll maybe clarify it more later.
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But, by the nature of the omission, if someone would ask if the professor is still helpful at current time, after reading that sentence, the answer would be yes.

The past perfect doesn't necessarly imply anything about the present, but you can't stop people from trying to read between the lines. (I hope I understand your question.) I believe the answer would be, "I don't know."

Do you mean you don't know if the professor's still helpful at the current time?


Yes.


You wrote: I'm describing my thoughts here because (it goes without saying) I have doubts about them and I would like to hear your thoughts.

I once worked as an industrial maintenance supervisor. Members of my crew often came to me for advice on handling an equipment breakdown. They'd say, "Let me show it to you - I can't explain it." I'd tell them, "If you can't explain it then you don't understand it. Go back and study it some more." Most of them thanked me for the advice. I've always found that forcing myself to express a problem in words helps me to organize my thoughts and to find out what I know and what I don't know. Other people can organize their thoughts better with diagrams and flow charts.
Please notice my 'Edit', thanks.
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