has only ever been captured once before?

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Hi,

In the following sentence, should "has only ever been captured" be re-written as "was only ever captured"? The sentence describes two events in the present perfect, with one happening before the other. I'm wondering if more fine-grained tense distinctions should be employed to reflect the temporal order.

A “megapod” of more than 100 humpback whales has been filmed surrounding a boat off the coast of Australia ─ an incredibly rare event an expert says has only ever been captured once before in the country’s waters.


I'd appreciate your help.
 

emsr2d2

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No. In the piece, the present perfect is required to express "Until now, this event has only ever been captured (on film) once."

The present perfect is used with the "ever/before" construction.

I've only done this once before.
He's never done this before.
She's only ever seen this twice.
 
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Is there a contradiction in the following sentences? Can both be valid at the same time?

a. Joe has only ever seen vampires once before.
b. Joe has seen vampires twice in his life so far.
 

emsr2d2

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Is there a contradiction in the following sentences? Can both be valid at the same time?

a. Joe has only ever seen vampires once before.
b. Joe has seen vampires twice in his life so far.
Yes, there's a contradiction. In sentence a, he has still only seen a vampire once. In sentence b, he's seen a vampire twice. However, if you change "has" to "had" in sentence a, you bring in the idea that he was, at the time of writing, seeing a vampire for the second time.
 
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If you recognize an inconsistency between those two vampire sentences, then the same situation holds in the OP sentence.

The OP sentence (along with information further down in the source article) entails that Australians have seen megapods of humpback whales off the coast of Australia twice. Moreover, the part, "an incredibly rare event an expert says has only ever been captured once before in the country’s waters" means Australians have seen a megapod of humpback whales swimming off the coast of Australia only once before.

In other words, from the situation described above, we obtain the following two sentences:

c. Australians have seen a megapod of humpback whales swimming off the coast of Australia twice.
d. Australians have seen a megapod of humpback whales swimming off the coast of Australia only once before.

Can (c) and (d) be valid at the same time?
 

Tdol

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And which makes for a better sentence in the context of journalism?
 

jutfrank

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I think you're misunderstanding the meaning of once before. It means one time before now. The first occasion was in the past and the second occasion is now:

Occasion 1: in the past
Occasion 2: now

Your inconsistency comes from the fact that you're interpreting both occasions to be in the past. That's not what it means. News reports quite typically treat recent past event as if they are current (i.e., present) events.
 
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What is the "now" of "once before now" referring to? The time of writing?
If so, how do we reconcile the following sentences inferred from the passage?

c. Australians have seen a megapod of humpback whales swimming off the coast of Australia twice.
d. Australians have seen a megapod of humpback whales swimming off the coast of Australia only once before.


I'm taking the present perfect to refer to a time frame that began at the creation of the universe and extends to the time of speech (or writing).
 
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Tarheel

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The phrase "once before" says to me that it happened one time before this time -- in other words, twice.
 
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The phrase "once before" says to me that it happened one time before this time -- in other words, twice.

If the original sentence used a past-tense form, as you did when you wrote, "happened," I would have no problem with it.
There's something interesting about the way the present perfect is used in the original sentence.
 
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Given the passgage, which of the following is correct?

d. Australians have seen a megapod of humpback whales swimming off the coast of Australia only once before (the recent sighting).
f. Australians had seen a megapod of humpback whales swimming off the coast of Australia only once before (the recent sighting).
 

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Either. Which do you want to use?
 
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Either. Which do you want to use?

EFL grammar would lead me to choose the past perfect version, as "before (the recent sighting)" is a past anchor on which the past perfect hinges. Also consider the clausal version of the before-phrase: "before they made the sighting recently." It is only compatible with the past perfect version, isn't it?

g. Australians had seen a megapod of humpback whales swimming off the coast of Australia only once before they made the sighting recently.

h. ? Australians have seen a megapod of humpback whales swimming off the coast of Australia only once before they made the sighting recently.
 

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Remember to keep the wider context in mind. In the OP sentence, the first bold clause uses a present tense (present perfect) in keeping with the journalistic 'news report' genre. The second bold clause therefore is also in keeping with referring to the event as a present event, even though it's in the past in an objective sense. Using a past perfect in the second clause (i.e., treating the event as a past event) wouldn't be illogical, but it wouldn't fit the context and it wouldn't be nearly as coherent.
 

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I think the past perfect does fit the context.
 
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Journalists do report events in the present perfect to give them a sense of currency, but that's for the major event.

The recent sighting described by "A “megapod” of more than 100 humpback whales has been filmed surrounding a boat off the coast of Australia" is the major event, whereas the event described by " incredibly rare event an expert says has only ever been captured once before in the country’s waters" is actually background information.
 

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the event described by " incredibly rare event an expert says has only ever been captured once before in the country’s waters" is actually background information.

Right, but what does that have to do with anything? I'm not sure I quite see what point you're making. Are you really suggesting that talking about this background information with a present tense is inappropriate? The point is that present perfect brings a present relevance, right?
 
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Could you find a background-introducing sentence in the first paragraph of a news story that is cast in the present perfect, while the main event is also in the present perfect? To be more specific, the present-perfect background sentence I'm eager to see is supposed to describe an event that happens before an objectively past event.
 
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jutfrank

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Could you find a background-introducing sentence in the first paragraph of a news story that is cast in the present perfect, while the main event is also in the present perfect?

What do you mean? We have an example of this right here! You want me to find another example?
 
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