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  1. #1
    suprunp's Avatar
    suprunp is offline Senior Member
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    Default before they had gone, they turned

    Before they had gone more than a hundred feet, however, they turned a corner and ran headlong into a group of four soldiers.
    (C. Paolini; Inheritance)

    I often see such a construction, but what is 'behind' it? Why do we use the past perfect after 'before'?

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    bhaisahab's Avatar
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    Default Re: before they had gone, they turned

    Quote Originally Posted by suprunp View Post
    Before they had gone more than a hundred feet, however, they turned a corner and ran headlong into a group of four soldiers.
    (C. Paolini; Inheritance)

    I often see such a construction, but what is 'behind' it? Why do we use the past perfect after 'before'?

    Thanks.
    You could rewrite it, "They had not gone more than a hundred feet, however, before they turned a corner..."
    Does that help?

  3. #3
    suprunp's Avatar
    suprunp is offline Senior Member
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    Default Re: before they had gone, they turned

    Quote Originally Posted by bhaisahab View Post
    You could rewrite it, "They had not gone more than a hundred feet, however, before they turned a corner..."
    Does that help?
    It certainly helps, although I can't explain why I feel these two sentences to be slightly different. It seems like:
    1) they turned (1) before they had gone (2) original
    2) they had gone (1) before they turned (2) rewritten

    Is this so or am I imagining things?

  4. #4
    aburosse is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: before they had gone, they turned

    Quote Originally Posted by suprunp View Post
    Before they had gone more than a hundred feet, however, they turned a corner and ran headlong into a group of four soldiers.
    (C. Paolini; Inheritance)

    I often see such a construction, but what is 'behind' it? Why do we use the past perfect after 'before'?

    Thanks.

    Past perfect followed by Past simple
    First action: They had gone (for some distance, but not more than 100 feet "before")
    Second action: They turned ...... and ran....

  5. #5
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: before they had gone, they turned

    I think the past perfect helps create a dramatic effect- setting us up for the next stage in the narrative.

  6. #6
    suprunp's Avatar
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    Default Re: before they had gone, they turned

    I saw him before he saw me.
    I had seen him before he saw me.
    I saw him before he had seen me. [13]
    I had seen him before he had seen me. [14]

    Sentence [13] appears to be paradoxical in that the second in the succession
    of events is marked with the past perfective [...]. The explanation is that the before-clause
    in [13], and perhaps also in [14], may be nonfactual; that is to say, the
    event in the before-clause may not have taken place ('He did not get a chance
    to see me, because I evaded him').

    (A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language)

    It seems to me to be an explanation. If this is not the case, please correct me.

  7. #7
    Tdol is offline Editor, UsingEnglish.com
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    Default Re: before they had gone, they turned

    It is similar to the 'He did not get a chance to see me, because I evaded him' scenario as they were planning to go more than 100 feet, but their intentions were thwarted by running into the soldiers.

  8. #8
    jahildebrandt is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: before they had gone, they turned

    Past perfect is often used to denote something happened further in thee past than something stated in the past tense.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: before they had gone, they turned

    Quote Originally Posted by jahildebrandt View Post
    Past perfect is often used to denote something happened further in thee past than something stated in the past tense.
    That is very often true, but not helpful in the example we are discussing:

    Before they had gone more than a hundred feet, however, they turned a corner and ran headlong into a group of four soldiers.

    The turning into the corner takes place before a hundred feet have been covered.

    Quirk et al, quoted by suprunp in post #6 appear to offer an explanation, as does Tdol’s suggestion of dramatic effect in post #5.

    Let’s look at some others:

    1. He had left before I arrived
    2. He had left when I arrived
    3. He left before I had arrived

    #1 is a classic example of the past perfect used for a past situation completed before a later past situation. However, unless we really wish to stress the ‘pre-pastness’ of the leaving, the use of before makes the sequence of events clear, and it is possible to say, “He left before I arrived”.

    #2 is another classic example of the past perfect used for a past situation completed before a later past situation. In this example, as when does not make the sequence of events clear, it is essential to use the past perfect if the leaving took place before the arrival. If we were to say, “He left when I arrived”, we would be saying that the leaving took place at the same time as, or very soon after, the arrival.

    #3 is the apparently paradoxical situation. Despite the past perfect, which suggests that the arrival took place before the leaving, before tells us that the leaving took place before the arrival. Quirk et al provide the solution: the before-clause may be non-factual; that is to say, the arrival may not have taken place. I think that Tdol’s suggestion is also relevant: “the past perfect helps create a dramatic effect- setting us up for the next stage in the narrative”.

    I think we may have to accept that this could be one of those situations in which we ultimately have to say, “That’s just the way it is”. The suggestions given by Quirk and Tdol help, but I would not like to have to defend them in a court of law. They do not sit happily with the idea that, in narrative, the past perfect is used for an earlier past. It is not so used in the sentences we are talking about, and those sentences are natural and correct.

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