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The Past Perfect (#2), by Dennis Oliver

The Past Perfect Tense #2:
Uses (#1)

 

The forms of the past perfect tense and of the present perfect
tense are very similar: both use have--have / has, had--and
the past participle. The uses of the past perfect and the present
perfect are quite different, however.

One of the most common uses of the past perfect happens
when there are two past actions and one of them happened
before the other:

(before now)
X
earlier
past

(1)

 

<---

(before now)
X
more
recent past
(2)

 

<---


X
now

In this situation, the past perfect tense is frequently used for
the first (earlier) past action and the simple past tense is often
used for the more recent past action:

X
earlier
past
(1)
past perfect

 

<---

X
more
recent past
(2)
simple past

 

<---

X
now

eat lunch

expect to win

just step
into the shower

know each other

promise to stay
with his brother

study hard
 

be hungry

not win

phone ring


get married

can't come to
the party

do well
on the test
   

Examples:


I wasn't hungry at dinnertime. I
had eaten a very large lunch.

He had expected to win, but he didn't.

I had just stepped into the shower when the phone rang.

When Bill and Joanne got married, they had only known
each other for two weeks.

Luis had promised to stay with his younger brother,
so he couldn't come to the party.

Barak did well on the test because he had studied hard.


_____________________________________________


Special Notes:

1.  

If it is clear which past action happened first,
a past tense may be used instead of the past
perfect tense:

I wasn't hungry at dinnertime. I ate / had
eaten a very large lunch. ("Dinnertime" and
"lunch" make it clear which action was first.)

Luis promised / had promised that he
would stay with his younger brother, so he
couldn't come to the party. ("So" makes it
clear that "couldn't come" was the result
and, therefore, the more recent action.)

He expected / had expected to win,
but he didn't. (Logically, "expected" could
only be before "didn't win": it couldn't
logically be at the same time or after
"didn't win.")

     
2.  

The past perfect is particularly important
when the time adverbial contains "when"
(because "when" doesn't show which of
two actions happened first):

When I stepped (2) into the shower,
the phone had rung (1).

When I had stepped (1) into the shower,
the phone rang (2).

The phone rang (2) when I had stepped (1)
into the shower.

The phone had rung (1) when I stepped
into the shower. (2)

_____________________________

Next: another use of the past perfect tense
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