Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Has or Had?

Has or had

THIS was a question in my child’s school test paper:

I saw a proboscis monkey which ______ a huge nose in the zoo last week.

A. has B. had C. have D. having

The answer given was A. Has

Please tell me why the answer is not B. Had to synchronise with the past tense of the sentence viz “saw” and “last week”. – A mother

The answer can be either B or A. The sentence uses a past reporting verb “saw”. A verb of perception can be used to report what you or other people see, hear, etc. (See Collins Cobuild English Grammar 2nd edition, 2005, p.316, 7.10 “verbs of learning and perceiving” and p.321, 7.27 “verbs used with ‘that’-clauses”). When a past reporting verb is used in a sentence, the relative clause that follows it also uses a past tense (tense consistency). Hence “had” is used:

“I saw a proboscis monkey which had a huge nose in the zoo last week.”

However, when reporting something that is permanent, a present tense verb can be used. Since proboscis monkeys always have huge noses, we can also use “has” in the sentence:

“I saw a proboscis monkey which has a huge nose in the zoo last week.”

Below are some examples of the use of the present tense and the past tense in similar sentences on the Internet:

“Back into the main area, we saw a Gymnocereus [a type of cactus] which has an odd habit, growing as a sprawling, spreading plant.”

(from British Cactus & Succulent Society, Southampton & District Branch Newsletter, December 2009)

The odd habit described is a permanent feature of the plant: so the present tense verb “has” is used.

“We saw a puffin which had about eight sand eels in its mouth to feed its young.” (from a report on a school trip to Skomer Island, off the coast of south-west Wales, UK)

Puffins don’t always have “eight sand eels in its mouth to feed its young”: so the past tense verb “had” is used in the relative clause.


No comments:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin