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    #1

    Post Verb Tense

    Hello,

    This is not a homework assignment; below is a question from one of the GMAT study guides.

    "A 1972 agreement between Canada and United States reduced the amount of phosphate that municipalities are allowed to dump into the Great Lakes"

    I was wondering if it's grammatically correct to use "had been" instead of "are" in the sentence above. Let's say the amount of phosphate allowed prior to 1972 was 100 tons. That amount was reduced to 50 tons based on the 1972 agreement. In my mind, the amount of 100 tons is "what had been allowed."

    Any thoughts or input on this matter is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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    #2

    Re: Verb Tense

    ===the following comment has since be rescinded by the author, namely me. Sorry. It is wrong.===


    You are quite correct. The original quote was in the wrong tense.

    It would have been correct, even looking back into the past, if it said "the 1972 agreement reduces the amount they are allowed to dump" (assuming the 1927 agreement is still in force today, so it has present tense currency) - but your suggestion is the better one.
    Last edited by jlinger; 04-Nov-2009 at 06:34.

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    #3

    Re: Verb Tense

    Quote Originally Posted by metallicfacez View Post
    Hello,

    This is not a homework assignment; below is a question from one of the GMAT study guides.

    "A 1972 agreement between Canada and United States reduced the amount of phosphate that municipalities are allowed to dump into the Great Lakes"

    I was wondering if it's grammatically correct to use "had been" instead of "are" in the sentence above. Let's say the amount of phosphate allowed prior to 1972 was 100 tons. That amount was reduced to 50 tons based on the 1972 agreement. In my mind, the amount of 100 tons is "what had been allowed."

    Any thoughts or input on this matter is greatly appreciated. Thanks!
    No it isn't.
    Yes, 100 tons had been allowed before the agreement. Now only 50 tons are allowed.
    The agreement could not reduce the amount they had been allowed to dump before the agreement. That would always be 100 tons.
    Since the agreement, 50 tons has been allowed; before that, 100 tons had been allowed. Currently 50 tons are allowed.

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    #4

    Re: Verb Tense

    Raymott is exactly correct and I was quite wrong. I was reading it wrong, and thank Raymott for clearing it up so neatly.

    Hope I didn't confuse anyone here.


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    #5

    Re: Verb Tense

    Thanks jlinger and Raymott for the quick response! I understand now.


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    #6

    Re: Verb Tense

    Strange. My understanding is this:

    "A 1972 agreement between Canada and United States reduced the amount of phosphate that municipalities are allowed to dump into the Great Lakes"
    Before the agreement was signed, municipalities had been allowed to dump 100 tons of phosphate.
    Since the agreement was signed, municipalities have been allowed to dump 50tons of phosphate.

    What did the agreement reduce? The amount of 100 tons(, which had been allowed municipalities to dump into the Great lakes before the agreement was signed).

    (A 1972 agreement between Canada and United States) reduced the amount of what?
    It reduced the amount of 100 tons of phosphate.
    It reduced the amount of phosphate that municipalities had been allowed to dump into the Great lakes (before the agreement).

    If I translate the sentence into my mother tongue, (are) is out of place. And it reconciles with my queer logic.

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    #7

    Re: Verb Tense

    I do teach GMAT.

    “A 1972 agreement between Canada and United States reduced the amount of phosphate that municipalities are allowed to dump into the Great Lakes.”

    Obviously in the GMAT exam one would choose from the usual five the option one thought to be the best.

    In this passage, it is indeed a question of time agreement: the passage starts rightly in the simple past because of the precise time frame given in “A 1972 agreement” but then unaccountably and wrongly veers into the weird present tense to describe something that is in fact no longer occurring. The 1972 agreement stopped something that previously (I use this adverb just to overstate the case) had been going on; therefore, one does need the past perfect or pluperfect tense.

    “A 1972 agreement between Canada and United States reduced the amount of phosphate that municipalities had been allowed to dump into the Great Lakes.”


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    #8

    Re: Verb Tense

    “A 1972 agreement between Canada and United States reduced the amount of phosphate that municipalities are allowed to dump into the Great Lakes.”

    This is quite correct - municipalities ARE allowed to dump phosphates in the Great Lakes - it is just that the AMOUNT was reduced in 1972. The use of the Present Tense 'are' implies that 'dumping of phosphates' is a fact, without boundaries of time: they were dumped, are dumped, and will continue to be dumped (with no end foreseen by the speaker.)

    “A 1972 agreement between Canada and United States reduced the amount of phosphate that municipalities had been allowed to dump into the Great Lakes.”

    The use of the Past Perfect form alters the meaning:
    it now specifically refers to the amount dumped prior to and up to 1972 AND...AND... would indicate that something further has happened since 1972 up the when this is being written. This is clearer if I extend the passage:
    “A 1972 agreement between Canada and United States reduced the amount of phosphate that municipalities had been allowed to dump into the Great Lakes. However, fish stocks and wild life continued to suffer toxic consequences, and dumping of phosphates was banned five years later."

    This can be contrasted with the more usual use of the Past Perfect:
    I went to Smith College. (Simple Past)
    I went to Smith College, though I had originally enrolled at Brown University- Past Perfect placing a second action as actually occurring before the first action mentioned.

    The Past Perfect as alerting the reader that some further development is coming, can again be seen if the Past perfect precedes the Past Tense:
    I had enrolled at Brown University, but I changed to Smith College.
    Last edited by Excalibur; 04-Nov-2009 at 11:02.

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    #9

    Re: Verb Tense

    Quote Originally Posted by soutter View Post
    “A 1972 agreement between Canada and United States reduced the amount of phosphate that municipalities had been allowed to dump into the Great Lakes.”
    This can be read two ways. I believe the above is the least obvious and most clumsy way to express that a reduction has been made for the future.

    When you reduce something, the level at which it had been before the reduction will stay the same. It can't be anything else, unless you are introducing retrospective legislation, in which case you could fine a company for dumping 80 tons in 1971.

    A similar sentence:
    The stomach stapling reduced the amount I had been able to eat before the operation.

    No, the amount you had been able to eat before the operation hasn't changed. The amount you can eat now is what is different.
    The stomach stapling reduced the amount I was able to eat from what it (the amount) was before the operation.

    “A 1972 agreement between Canada and United States reduced the amount of phosphate that municipalities were allowed to dump into the Great Lakes from the amount allowed before the agreement.”
    I think the version with 'are' is the least ambiguous way to express the meaning of this sentence.
    Last edited by Raymott; 04-Nov-2009 at 13:48.

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    #10

    Re: Verb Tense

    A sentence about a reduction stated in the past tense that looks to the past i e to the previous level that has been changed would use the past perfect.

    “A 1972 agreement between Canada and United States reduced the amount of phosphate that municipalities had been allowed (the previous higher level now reduced) to dump into the Great Lakes.”

    A sentence about a reduction stated in the past tense that looks to the future i e to the changed level would use the conditional:

    “A 1972 agreement between Canada and United States reduced the amount of phosphate that municipalities would be allowed to dump into the Great Lakes.”

    Tense agreement: why go into the present? We only know from the passage what happened in the past. To assume that the reduced level is still in effect is an assumption only the change to the present tense is simply clumsy.

    “A 1972 agreement between Canada and United States reduced the amount of phosphate that municipalities are allowed to dump into the Great Lakes.” - UGH

    “A 1972 agreement between Canada and United States has reduced the amount of phosphate that municipalities are allowed to dump into the Great Lakes.” - OK

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