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    #1

    Question Past Perfect vs. Simple Past (and some other things...)

    Hello!

    Yesterday I wrote a post without registration, but nobody has replied to it, so I thought I'd register, so that I could ask my questions again, and I hope that you, dear Native Speakers, will help me. I apologize in advance if I ask too much. Though the title of my thread suggests the problem with the use of the Past Perfect instead of the Simple Past (and vice versa), but there are also other phrases that I'd like you to make clear to me.

    The 2003 blockbuster movie, "The Underworld" starts with the following sentence:

    "The war had all but ground to a halt in the blink of an eye."

    I have three questions about this single sentence.

    1.) I know that the phrase "all but" means almost (or everything except those mentioned), but what is the correct interpretation of the above mentioned sentence?

    a) The war _almost_ ended, but it eventually didn't, OR
    b) the war ended almost in a blink of an eye, i.e. very quickly?


    2.) The phrase "GROUND to a halt" seems a bit (How should I say?) "pushed" to me. I can imagine a train, which _ground_ to a halt after an emergency break, or a car that stopped with grinding ABS, but can a war grind to a halt? I'm sorry, I am not a native speaker, as you can well imagine, so this phrase is probably absolute perfect, it's just strange to me. I would have said/written: the war had come to an end, or just simply ended.

    And now the Past Perfect vs. Simple Past problems:

    3.) Why is this sentence used with Past Perfect? It is a narration; wouldn't it be more logical, let alone simpler, to use simple past?

    Here are the following sentences in the narration for the better understanding. (I put my further notices and questions in brackets.)

    "Lucian, the most feared and ruthless leader ever to rule the Lycan (=werewolf) clan had finally been killed. The Lycan horde scattered to the wind in a single evening of flame and retribution. (Now the writer used the Simple Past. Why?)
    Victory, it seemed, was in our grasp, the very birthright of the Vampires. (I would have written: "Victory, the very birthright of the Vampires, seemed to be in our grasp." Am I wrong?) Nearly six centuries had passed since that night. (Back to the Past Perfect. WHY?) Yet the ancient blood feud proved unwilling to follow Lucian to the grave. Though Lycans were fewer in number, the war itself had become more perilous for the moon no longer held her sway. (Now I am REALLY confused... ) Older, more powerful Lycans were now able to change at will. The weapons had evolved, but our orders remained the same: Hunt them down and kill them off, one by one."


    So please, please share your knowledge, ideas and thoughts with me about all of this.


    Somebody wrote us not to learn from movies (or at least with caution), but again: it was NOT a dialogue between two uneducated people, or something like that. Quite the opposite; it was supposed to be a sophisticated narration, and I'm sure it really was, I would just like to understand the phrases and the grammatical structure.
    I mean, generally speaking, I understand the difference between the Past Perfect and the Simple Past very well when using the Past Perfect to say that something had already happened before another action in the past, as well as in reported speach. What confuses me is the seemingly inconsistent use of these stuctures in the above mentioned narration. (In spite of that, I completely understand the text, aside from the two nuances in the first sentence, especially the "all but" phrase is confusing there.)

    Thank you very, very much in advance for helping me!
    Last edited by ~Mav~; 04-Apr-2010 at 01:30. Reason: Typo and style

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    #2

    Re: Past Perfect vs. Simple Past (and some other things...)

    1 The near complete ending of the war happened very quickly- it went instantly from war almost to peace.
    2 Grind to a halt- like a train stopping, there's friction and maybe sparks- anything can grind to a halt, especially where there's friction and it's a struggle to stop it.
    3 The past perfect puts it before the narrative point of the rest of the film, which is past.
    4 We often start in the past perfect for emphasis, sequence and then switch to the simple past for convenience.
    5 No, that would also be fine. (seemed...)
    6 For the moon = because the moon was no longer in control

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    #3

    Thumbs up Re: Past Perfect vs. Simple Past (and some other things...)

    Thank you very much for your enlightening answer.

    I hope you (and the other native speakers of this forum) don't mind further questions...


    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    1 The near complete ending of the war happened very quickly- it went instantly from war almost to peace.
    So would a sentence like this: "The war had come to an end almost in the blink of an eye" mean exactly the same? In other words, the war had come to almost a sudden stop... But does that imply the real ending of the war, or is it just a hint that the war might have ended?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    2 Grind to a halt- like a train stopping, there's friction and maybe sparks- anything can grind to a halt, especially where there's friction and it's a struggle to stop it.
    "Ay, there's the rub..." - like Hamlet would say. This is exactly what I told! A train, a car, a main battle tank, etc. can grind to a halt, but is it the proper term in the case of a war?


    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    3 The past perfect puts it before the narrative point of the rest of the film, which is past.
    Off-topic: I bet you've seen this movie, too.


    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    4 We often start in the past perfect for emphasis, sequence and then switch to the simple past for convenience.
    I think that this is the gist of it, isn't it? The writer of the script used these tenses deliberately, didn't he?
    Could this whole introduction have been written in Simple Past? Like this: "The war all but ground to a halt in the blink of an eye. Lucian, the most feared and ruthless leader ever to rule the Lycan clan was finally killed. The Lycan horde scattered to the wind in a single evening of flame and retribution. Victory, it seemed, was in our grasp, the very birthright of the Vampires. (Look what I've found! ) Nearly six centuries passed since that night, yet the ancient blood feud proved unwilling to follow Lucian to the grave." (Etc.) Would it be correct?



    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    6 For the moon = because the moon was no longer in control
    Thank you, but I got it on my own. What I didn't understand was the alternating use of these two tenses.
    Last edited by ~Mav~; 04-Apr-2010 at 18:28. Reason: style

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    #4

    Re: Past Perfect vs. Simple Past (and some other things...)

    Quote Originally Posted by ~Mav~ View Post
    So would a sentence like this: "The war had come to an end almost in the blink of an eye" mean exactly the same? In other words, the war had come to almost a sudden stop... But does that imply the real ending of the war, or is it just a hint that the war might have ended?
    It implies that the war did end (and fast), but the end of a war can be messy and not all guns are silenced at exactly the same time, so there were probably a few are where fighting continued, but these were minor.


    Quote Originally Posted by ~Mav~ View Post
    "Ay, there's the rub..." - like Hamlet would say. This is exactly what I told! A train, a car, a main battle tank, etc. can grind to a halt, but is it the proper term in the case of a war?
    It's fine, though I am not sure what you mean by proper- you could find it used in newspaper reports, but wouldn't find it in peace treaties or official documents.



    Quote Originally Posted by ~Mav~ View Post
    Off-topic: I bet you've seen this movie, too.
    I haven't, but it sounds like the sort of narrative found at the beginning of Star Wars, Terminator, etc.



    Quote Originally Posted by ~Mav~ View Post
    I think that this is the gist of it, isn't it? The writer of the script used these tenses deliberately, didn't he?
    Could this whole introduction have been written in Simple Past? Like this: "The war all but ground to a halt in the blink of an eye. Lucian, the most feared and ruthless leader ever to rule the Lycan clan was finally killed. The Lycan horde scattered to the wind in a single evening of flame and retribution. Victory, it seemed, was in our grasp, the very birthright of the Vampires. (Look what I've found! ) Nearly six centuries passed since that night, yet the ancient blood feud proved unwilling to follow Lucian to the grave." (Etc.) Would it be correct?
    There's nothing wrong with the past, but the past perfect may give it a greater historical tone and help locate these events as before the narrative of the film.

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    #5

    Re: Past Perfect vs. Simple Past (and some other things...)

    Thank you again for your answer!



    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    ...it sounds like the sort of narrative found at the beginning of Star Wars, Terminator, etc.
    I think that this one is more sophisticated. For comparison, here is the introduction of "A New Hope", the first Star Wars movie:

    It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy."
    I think it's safe to say that it uses much simpler structures, and so does the introduction of Terminator 2. It's interesting that the latter uses exclusively the simple past, like the way I wanted to do in the narration of The Underworld. Here is the narration (Narration or narrative? Or are they interchangeable in this case? You used the word "narrative", so this must be the correct one... I was in belief that the word "narrative" is the adjective of the word "narration". Would you enlighten me, please? ) of the Terminator 2:

    3 billion human lives ended on August 29th, 1997. The survivors of the nuclear fire called the war Judgment Day. They lived only to face a new nightmare, the war against the Machines...
    Skynet, the computer which controlled the machines, sent two terminators back through time. Their mission: to destroy the leader of the human Resistance... John Connor. My son. The first terminator was programmed to strike at me, in the year 1984... before John was born. It failed. The second was set to strike at John himself, when he was still a child. As before, the Resistance was able to send a lone warrior. A protector for John. It was just a question of which one of them would reach him first...
    I thought it might be interesting to compare the introductions of these great movies.


    Just one more thing... It seems that everybody uses the simple past (and only simple past) in sentences like this "I knew her before I met you". Would it be incorrect to say: "I had known her before I met you" If it's incorrect, then why? I googled this phrase "I knew her before I met" (in quotes for exact matches), and I got more that 2 million results, while I got only ONE result when I googled the phrase "I had known her before I met".

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    #6

    Question Re: Past Perfect vs. Simple Past (and some other things...)

    Nobody? Okay, let's get the hell away from the movies , though I did think that it might be interesting to compare these narrations. But I'm still waiting for answers for the following questions:

    1.)

    Quote Originally Posted by ~Mav~ View Post
    It seems that everybody uses the simple past (and only simple past) in sentences like this "I knew her before I met you". Would it be incorrect to say: "I had known her before I met you" If it's incorrect, then why? I googled this phrase "I knew her before I met" (in quotes for exact matches), and I got more that 2 million results, while I got only ONE result when I googled the phrase "I had known her before I met".


    2.)

    Quote Originally Posted by ~Mav~ View Post
    Narration or narrative? Or are they interchangeable in this case? You used the word "narrative", so this must be the correct one... I was in belief that the word "narrative" is the adjective of the word "narration". Would you enlighten me, please?

    3.)

    I wouldn't like to seem to be uncomprehending (Or am I too late with this? ), but I'm still not sure which the "all but" phrase refers to in the original sentence. ("The war had all but ground to a halt in the blink of an eye.") Does it refer to the verb, i.e. the action, or does it refer to the time length, i.e. "almost in the blink of an eye Tdol's kind answer suggests the latter one:
    Quote Originally Posted by Tdol View Post
    1 The near complete ending of the war happened very quickly- it went instantly from war almost to peace.
    But in this case I don't understand why "all but" doesn't stand right before "in the blink of an eye". I mean, if the idiom "all but" stands between the auxiliary verb and the main verb, then it implies that it refers to the verb. However if I say "a war had all but ended", it bears a meaning that it actually had not ended. (No matter how quickly it did NOT end... ) Do you understand what my problem is with this? :)


    Thank you very much in advance for your further answers.

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    #7

    Re: Past Perfect vs. Simple Past (and some other things...)

    Quote Originally Posted by ~Mav~ View Post
    I wouldn't like to seem to be uncomprehending (Or am I too late with this? ), but I'm still not sure which the "all but" phrase refers to in the original sentence. ("The war had all but ground to a halt in the blink of an eye.") Does it refer to the verb, i.e. the action, or does it refer to the time length, i.e. "almost in the blink of an eye Tdol's kind answer suggests the latter one:

    No. Tdol's response suggests the correct interpretation that "all but" refers to "grinding to a halt".

    I mean, if the idiom "all but" stands between the auxiliary verb and the main verb, then it implies that it refers to the verb. However if I say "a war had all but ended", it bears a meaning that it actually had not ended.
    That's right. It says nothing about the end of the war. The war could still be going on. A car can "all but stop in the blink of an eye", and then accelerate again. Stopping isn't necessary.
    The event was that the war all but stopped; and that event occurred in the blink of an eye.
    R.

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    #8

    Re: Past Perfect vs. Simple Past (and some other things...)

    NOW it's clear, thank you very much. By the way, the rest of the narration (or narrative -- that was and will be my other question ) also suggests this. ("Nearly six centuries had passed since that night. Yet the ancient blood feud proved unwilling to follow Lucian to the grave. Though Lycans were fewer in number, the war itself had become more perilous for the moon no longer held her sway.") So my first guess was right (The war _almost_ ended, but it eventually didn't), I was just a bit confused by this (to me) strange idiom. I mean "the war had ground to a halt, but by now I've become reconciled to the fact that this idiom can be used when speaking of wars.


    Would you be so kind as to answer my other two questions as well?

    a) It seems that everybody uses the simple past (and only simple past) in sentences like this "I knew her before I met you". Would it be incorrect to say: "I had known her before I met you" If it's incorrect, then why? I googled this phrase "I knew her before I met" (in quotes for exact matches), and I got more that 2 million results, while I got only ONE result when I googled the phrase "I had known her before I met".


    b)

    Narration or narrative? (in the above used examples) Or are they interchangeable in this case? You (Tdol) used the word "narrative", so this must be the correct one... I was in belief that the word "narrative" is the adjective of the word "narration". Would you enlighten me, please?

    Thank you for your patience!

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    #9

    Unhappy Re: Past Perfect vs. Simple Past (and some other things...)

    Up!

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    #10

    Thumbs up Re: Past Perfect vs. Simple Past (and some other things...)

    Okay, never mind my question about narrative or narration. I can check it out on TheFreeDictionary, after all. However, I would still like to get an answer to this:

    It seems that everybody uses the simple past (and only simple past) in sentences like this "I knew her before I met you". Would it be incorrect to say: "I had known her before I met you" If it's incorrect, then why? I googled this phrase "I knew her before I met" (in quotes for exact matches), and I got more that 2 million results, while I got only ONE result when I googled the phrase "I had known her before I met". (Now there are two results because of this thread. )

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