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One of the first patterns a learner of the Japanese language will come across is:

〜したことがある

(I) have 〜 before.

わたしは中国を3回訪れたことがあります

I have visited China three times before.

However, I also occasionally come across sentences like:

以前に一度会ったことがあった

以前、6人がかりで、注射をいやがる私を取り抑えなくてはならなかったことがありました

With the former, they seem to be interchangeable, but the latter was originally a sentence that I wrote, but had 「あります」 changed to 「ありました」, though among other things.

However, I also came across the following similar sentence.

以前も組織の男で40人で取り押さえねばならんほどの大騒動になった事がある

What is the difference between these two patterns?

More concretely, what would be the difference between the following two sentences?

以前に一度会ったことがあった

以前に一度会ったことがある

Edit

I would also appreciate an explanation as to why the following sentence is valid.

仕事で大阪に引っ越す前、大阪を訪れたことが1度だけある

  • 1
    Tricky question. Hope you are aware that you are asking about both "frequency expressions" and "one-time-only-event expressions", I started writing an answer but quit because it was going to be so long. – l'électeur Jan 3 '16 at 14:50
  • I do not see any sentences referring to the frequency of an event or action, so I would appreciate it if you could elaborate. However, I do realise that my question may be a bit broad, so in the case that my overall question is too broad to answer, I ask that you answer the more specific question at the end of my post. – seafood258 Jan 4 '16 at 0:55
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    I don't think they are really different. It's something like difference between "I once met" and "I've met before", perhaps. – user4092 Jan 4 '16 at 7:00
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以前に一度会ったことがあった/ある。To me, they seem to be saying the same thing, though I think the former is close to ‘I met him once before‘ with more emphasis on the fact and the latter is close to ‘I’ve met him once before’ with more emphasis on experience, if I venture to say the difference. I think ’一度会ったことがある’ is smoother and more natural than ’一度会ったことがあった.’ Repetition of the words ‘会った’ and ’あった’ phonetically pronounced same looks awkward and sounds somewhat abrasive to me. It's like you're trying a tongue twister.

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以前に一度会ったことがあった。 : We had met once before.

以前に一度会ったことがある。 : We have met once before.
  • It is, the only difference is the tense, just as in english. – Tchang Jan 4 '16 at 17:40
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    This simple answer might be useful for the OP, but it is not a complete explanation. In particular, it does not explain why we can say 仕事で大阪に引っ越す前、大阪を訪れたことが1度だけある. – Tsuyoshi Ito Jan 4 '16 at 21:39

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