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    #1

    Past Perfect - before and until

    Hello,

    I thought I had made peace with the past perfect and then I found these sentences. They completely threw me off.

    a) He ordered us back to work before we had finished our meal.

    I don't have a problem with the meaning of the sentence. I understand it. To me, 'We were eating. > He ordered us back to work. > We didn't finished our meal' What is nagging me is the logic behind it. Compare it with:

    b) I didn't know/hadn't known about onsens before I came to Japan.
    = didn't know > came to Japan

    Should the phrase after "before" be in the past simple?

    I have read on another web board that the "non-completion" nature of "finishing our meal" made it possible to use the past perfect in sentences like a). Maybe it is similar to the use of the past perfect here?

    c) We had hoped to take pictures from the cable car, but it rained so hard we couldn't see anything.

    To make things worse (for me), I found this sentence in a grammar book.

    d) He went out before I had finished my sentence.

    The only comment made by the author is "Note that sentences like the last, a past perfect tense can refer to a time later than the action of the main verb. This is unusual." That didn't help me much at all.

    And last but not least:

    e) I waited until it had stopped raining.

    I personally would say:

    f) I waited until it stopped raining.

    My question is "Is there a difference between e) and f)?" And in what context would e) be preferred?

    Please help me understand.

    Thank you.

    Nawee

  1. 5jj's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Please, please, please help: Past Perfect - before and until

    Quote Originally Posted by naweewra View Post

    I thought I had made peace with the past perfect and then I found these sentences. They completely threw me off.
    I don't see why. You asked a similar question here two weeks ago and I told you that you will often see and hear such sentences.
    a) He ordered us back to work before we had finished our meal.

    I don't have a problem with the meaning of the sentence. I understand it. To me, 'We were eating. > He ordered us back to work. > We didn't finished our meal' What is nagging me is the logic behind it. Compare it with:. At the time of ordering, we can say, "We haven't finished our meal" Looking back at that time, we can now say, "We hadn't finished our meal".


    I have read on another web board that the "non-completion" nature of "finishing our meal" made it possible to use the past perfect in sentences like a). Maybe it is similar to the use of the past perfect here?
    Yes,
    c) We had hoped to take pictures from the cable car, but it rained so hard we couldn't see anything.While the past simple 'hoped' is possible, I see no problem with the past perfect here.

    To make things worse (for me), I found this sentence in a grammar book.

    d) He went out before I had finished my sentence.

    The only comment made by the author is "Note that sentences like the last, a past perfect tense can refer to a time later than the action of the main verb. This is unusual." That didn't help me much at all.
    It's similar to what I said in the other thread. If you don't like the past perfect, use the past simple. That's fine, but you'll just have to accept that the past perfect is possible.
    And last but not least:

    e) I waited until it had stopped raining.

    I personally would say:

    f) I waited until it stopped raining.

    My question is "Is there a difference between e) and f)?" And in what context would e) be preferred?
    There is no difference.
    Last edited by 5jj; 14-Feb-2014 at 10:00.

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    #3

    Re: Please, please, please help: Past Perfect - before and until

    Quote Originally Posted by naweewra View Post
    Hello,
    Please, please, please, please, please, please keep this out of your titles in future. It adds nothing of value, and can in fact turn some people off answering.

    I thought I had made peace with the past perfect and then I found these sentences. They completely threw me off.
    a. - Not dealt with


    Compare it with: (Why? It's not exactly analogous.)
    b) I didn't know/hadn't known about onsens before I came to Japan.
    = didn't know > came to Japan
    Should the phrase after "before" be in the past simple? Yes, I'd use it that way. "Before I came to Japan, I didn't know/hadn't known about onsens." If the phrase was "... I'd never heard of onsens" you'd have to use the past perfect. We don't say, "Before I came to Japan, I didn't hear of onsens". 'Know' isn't the best example verb here.

    d) He went out before I had finished my sentence. Good.
    The only comment made by the author is "Note that sentences like the last, a past perfect tense can refer to a time later than the action of the main verb. This is unusual." That didn't help me much at all.
    I don't think that structure is unusual. Note that sentence a is similar in structure.

    And last but not least:
    e) I waited until it had stopped raining. Fine
    I personally would say:
    f) I waited until it stopped raining. Also fine

    My question is "Is there a difference between e) and f)?" There's no practical difference. I'd say f because it's simpler.
    And in what context would e) be preferred?
    When you want to avoid ambiguity, or stress something, or some part of the construction is missing:
    Mother: “Why were playing football in the rain?”
    Kid: “I wasn't. The rain had stopped.”
    Here the implication “before I started playing” is missing. “The rain stopped”, without that explicit clause, doesn't work.)
    There's a partial answer. I would also be interested in sentences a and d - ie. in an explanation of why the past perfect tense occurs for the more recent action.

    d0) He left after I had finished my sentence. (The usual past perfect.)
    d1) He left before I had finished my sentence. (An apparent inverse of the use of the past perfect). There could be the 'non-completion' explanation here.

    I will try to find an answer beyond saying that grammarians don't give one.


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    #4

    Re: Please, please, please help: Past Perfect - before and until

    It's not a question of liking or disliking a verb form when it comes to a non-native trying to understand the underlying reason for choosing one verb form over another. It is especially hard for people whose native language is tense-less. We have to learn the way a native speaker think and try to think like them in order to learn tense usage.

    For some learners, accepting that this is how you use this tense is enough. But for some of us, even though it may seem pedantic to some, we are interested in understanding the nuance or the way the native speaker's mind works, so that we use tenses in a more natural way and maybe help our fellow learners understand their usage too. And for the latter group, Using English and similar web boards are usually more helpful than language classes and learners' grammar books because these small differences can be explained and discussed. At least I had hoped that they would.

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    #5

    Re: Please, please, please help: Past Perfect - before and until

    'Please, please, please, please, please, please keep this out of your titles in future.' (Raymott)

    I agree and have removed the unnecessary pleading from your title, Nawee, lest other students think that grovelling to us gets our attention.

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    #6

    Re: Please, please, please help: Past Perfect - before and until

    Quote Originally Posted by naweewra View Post
    It's not a question of liking or disliking a verb form when it comes to a non-native trying to understand the underlying reason for choosing one verb form over another.
    Sometimes it is. In this problem of 'before' with a past perfect, some native speakers use a tense that one cannot justify completely satisfactorily in terms of logic. However, many would use the more logical past simple, and you are free to do so if you wish. You just have to accept the situation. You are under no obligation to use the past perfect.
    It is especially hard for people whose native language is tense-less. We have to learn the way a native speaker thinks and try to think like them in order to learn tense usage.
    The problem with that is that native speakers don't consciously think about the tenses they use. When it comes to talking about one past-time event that precedes another, native speakers of English use the past perfect far less frequently than speakers of other languages might, and they sometimes use it in a way that appears illogical. Grammarians try to find explanations for the way we use tenses, but sometimes there is no clear or logical explanation.
    Using English and similar web boards are usually more helpful than language classes and learners' grammar books because these small differences can be explained and discussed. At least I had hoped that they would.
    We are discussing them, but I, for one, am not going to pretend there is a clear explantion when there doesn't seem to be one.

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    #7

    Re: Please, please, please help: Past Perfect - before and until

    Quote Originally Posted by linlin1 View Post
    Wait, so you're saying when in doubt, use the past simple tense to replace the past perfect tense and that will always be grammatical? No kidding...
    No, I am not. I am saying that, in sentences such as those naweewra is asking about, in which the past perfect appears illogical, the past simple is acceptable.
    Last edited by emsr2d2; 14-Feb-2014 at 10:32. Reason: teeny typo

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