Thread: after, when, before + Past Perfect

1. after, when, before + Past Perfect

Hello!

Revising the Past Perfect, I got mixed up by a couple of examples in my CPE book:

(1) Before he read the letter he took a deep breath (NOT HAD TAKEN)
(2) After he had done the washing up, he collapsed in a chair (NOT DID)
(3) When we had galloped up the stairs, we discovered that he window had been broken (NOT GALLOPED)

I cannot get a handle on the use of conjunctions with the Past Perfect.
1. The person took a breath before he read the letter, why can't I say "had taken"?
2. the person first did the laundry and then collapsed in a chair; isn't this "had done" redundant here? The actions are listed in their chronological order, so why the Past Perfect?
3. Again, they galloped up the stairs and then did the next action. The action order isn't reversed. Is saying "when we galloped.... we discovered" such a dreadful mistake?

I'd appreciate it if anyone could comment on that.

2. Re: after, when, before + Past Perfect

Originally Posted by Verona_82
Revising the Past Perfect, I got mixed up by a couple of examples in my CPE book:

(1) Before he read the letter he took a deep breath (NOT HAD TAKEN)
(2) After he had done the washing up, he collapsed in a chair (NOT DID)
(3) When we had galloped up the stairs, we discovered that the window had been broken (NOT GALLOPED)

I cannot get a handle on the use of conjunctions with the Past Perfect.
1. The person took a breath before he read the letter, why can't I say "had taken"? You can, but it somehow seems to make the taking of the deep breath a major act.
2. the person first did the laundry and then collapsed in a chair; isn't this "had done" redundant here? The actions are listed in their chronological order, so why the Past Perfect? Both are possible.
3. Again, they galloped up the stairs and then did the next action. The action order isn't reversed. Is saying "when we galloped.... we discovered" such a dreadful mistake? It's not a dreadful mistake, but it could just about mean that we discovered the broken window while we were galloping. We tend to be fairly flexible about the use of past simple and past perfect with 'before' and 'after', where the conjunctions themselves make the order of the actions clear. We tend to be more precise with 'when'.!
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3. Re: after, when, before + Past Perfect

Originally Posted by Verona_82
Hello!

Revising the Past Perfect, I got mixed up by a couple of examples in my CPE book:

(1) Before he read the letter he took a deep breath (NOT HAD TAKEN)
(2) After he had done the washing up, he collapsed in a chair (NOT DID)
(3) When we had galloped up the stairs, we discovered that he window had been broken (NOT GALLOPED)

I cannot get a handle on the use of conjunctions with the Past Perfect.
1. The person took a breath before he read the letter, why can't I say "had taken"?
2. the person first did the laundry and then collapsed in a chair; isn't this "had done" redundant here? The actions are listed in their chronological order, so why the Past Perfect?
3. Again, they galloped up the stairs and then did the next action. The action order isn't reversed. Is saying "when we galloped.... we discovered" such a dreadful mistake?

I'd appreciate it if anyone could comment on that.
In sentences containing such words as "before", "after", "when", "as soon as", etc. you can usually use either Tense. Much depends on the style because sometimes I come across Past Simple and sometimes Past Perfect. However as a rule it's always clear which action took place first and which one followed and that's why Past Perfect isn't entirely necessary here. As for me, I would write the Past Perfect form because I try my best to adhere to strict grammar rules.

4. Re: after, when, before + Past Perfect

Hmm, fivejedjon, but the Past Simple here - 'galloped' - also implies that the action is completed, isn't it?

Milan2003_07, the problem is that there's harly such a thing as 'strict grammar rules'. What is said in one grammar is disputed in another, and I've got tons of examples.

5. Re: after, when, before + Past Perfect

Originally Posted by Verona_82
Hmm, fivejedjon, but the Past Simple here - 'galloped' - also implies that the action is completed, isn't it?
When we galloped up the stairs, we discovered that the window had been broken.

I have to agree that the implication that the galloping has been completed is probably as strong as the implication that it is in progress. However, the possibility of ambiguity is there, even if it is slight. So, the careful speaker (or rather, writer, because in speech we often don't take time to think) will produce:

or: When/While we were galloping ... ,

depending on what message s/he intended to convey.

In other examples, the difference can be more significant:

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

In #1. he left at the same time as or shortly after my arrival. . In #2, he left before my arrival.

Milan2003_07, the problem is that there's hardly such a thing as 'strict grammar rules'. What is said in one grammar is disputed in another, and I've got tons of examples.
Exactly. And remember that some of the rules were invented by teachers to help students learn. They are often generally true, but somebody who knows the language well will know that there are many exceptions to most rules. The 'rule' about not using will in an if-clause falls into this category, as do 'rules' about the sequence of tenses.

Other 'rules' were invented by writers who took it upon themselves to decide that what they considered to be correct must be correct. The 'rules' about split infinitives and not ending sentences with prepositions fall into this category.

6. Re: after, when, before + Past Perfect

Originally Posted by fivejedjon

Exactly. And remember that some of the rules were invented by teachers to help students learn. They are often generally true, but somebody who knows the language well will know that there are many exceptions to most rules. The 'rule' about not using will in an if-clause falls into this category, as do 'rules' about the sequence of tenses.

Other 'rules' were invented by writers who took it upon themselves to decide that what they considered to be correct must be correct. The 'rules' about split infinitives and not ending sentences with prepositions fall into this category.
I understand what you really want to say. I know that rules don't always suit practice and sometimes they're too abstract. However there are some sources of information that should be trusted like, say, Collins Cobuild English grammar, Oxford grammar, etc. Of course monnolingual dictionaries are very reliable. Even if we realize that sometimes a rule isn't observed in life, we can have two situations: either this rule is intended to simplify the language and help learn it sooner or maybe WE have already got used to speaking in the wrong way. Many people write "I wOnt to go to the cinema" and it's very popular with the young. We can also encounter phrases like "I wonna go to ..." or "Sry' instead of "sorry". We need to be very careful when interpreting rules. To speak stilted language is better than to make mistakes.

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What's your attitude to split infinitives? Do you vote for or against them? I'm in favour of them and use them when necessary. Also I think it's possible to end sentences with prepositions.

What do you mean saying "will" can go after "if"? I know several situations when it's possible, but I'd like to confirm you're speaking about these very ones:

"If you will sit down and wait, I'll go and bring along our adviser"
"If you will break the rules, you'll be fined again"

You mean this or something else?

7. Re: after, when, before + Past Perfect

Originally Posted by milan2003_07
However there are some sources of information that should be trusted like, say, Collins Cobuild English grammar...
Grammars based on corpora reflect a more accurate picture of what people generally say and write than those based merely on what the writer thinks they say and write. However, remember that the 1990 Collins Cobuild was based on the Birmingham corpus of 20 million* words (supplemented by other sources). 20 million sounds a lot of words, but there are 783,137 words in the King James Authorised Version of the Bible, (King James Bible facts) and 884,647 words in the works of Shakespeare (Shakespeare FAQs-Folger Shakespeare Library). This means that the Birmingham Corpus contains the number of words contained in about about 25.5 copies of the Bible or 22.6 copies of Shakespeare. Picture these on a library bookshelf - and then picture the thousands of other books in the library. All the corpora in the world probably contain far fewer words than are written in Scotland in one day.

They are a good guide to frequently used words and expressions, but may be of little use in proving the (non-)existence of uncommon words and expressions.
Of course monolingual dictionaries are very reliable.
Some are.

Many people write "I wOnt to go to the cinema"
If you are referring to a misspelling of want, I doubt if many people do that after their first year at school. If you are referriing to a to-infinitive after won't, I doubt if any native speakers do that.
We can also encounter phrases like "I wonna go to ..."
Well, that is what many people say in informal conversation. It may even (spelt wanna) become acceptable in in more formal writing before this century is out. Contractions such as don't and won't were taboo in all but very personal correspondence less than fifty years ago.They are quite common in all but the most formal writing today.

What's your attitude to split infinitives? Do you vote for or against them?
I try to normally avoid them in writing. That's a result of my schooling fifty years ago.Objectively, I see nothing wrong with them.
Also I think it's possible to end sentences with prepositions.
That's a statement I find it impossible to disagree with.
What do you mean saying "will" can go after "if"? I know several situations when it's possible, but I'd like to confirm you're speaking about these very ones:

"If you will sit down and wait, I'll go and bring along our adviser"
"If you will break the rules, you'll be fined again"
I am indeed.

*This figure is now much higher (see post #10). This does not change the argument.

8. Re: after, when, before + Past Perfect

Since there is some flexibility in using the past perfect with 'after' and before, what would you say about the following sentences:

1. She went to bed after she HAD TAKEN / TOOK a bath //
Before she went to bed she HAD TAKEN / TOOK a bath

2. When he HAD HAD/ HAD coffee, he put on his coat and went for a walk //

Personally, I'd use the past simple in both sentences, but I see nothing wrong with the Past Perfect.
(I'm being meticulous as I risk losing points in my exam)

9. Re: after, when, before + Past Perfect

Originally Posted by Verona_82
1. She went to bed after she HAD TAKEN / TOOK a bath / both
Before she went to bed she HAD TAKEN / TOOK a bath both

2. When he HAD HAD/ HAD coffee, he put on his coat and went for a walk /
(I'm being meticulous as I risk losing points in my exam)
As before, it is better to be absolutely clear with when.

I have to warn you that teachers, examiners and course book writers in some parts of the world can be more insistent on the use of the past perfect than native speakers. Check carefully the materials you have been given on your course. What I have told you is common usage in Modern BrE; my opinion is in line with that of most leading writers on English grammar, but if you have been taught differently, you may be penalised if you don't follow the rules you have been given - even if they don't reflect the real situation!

10. Re: after, when, before + Past Perfect

Since writing post #7, I have discovered that the Bank of English, on which the Collins Cobuild Grammar is based, now contains 650 million words, (http://www.mycobuild.com/about-collins-corpus.aspx). This is a rather more impressive figure than 20 million, though it still represents a tiny fraction of the amount of words spoken and written throughout the world in a single minute.

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