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  1. tuen tuen's Avatar
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    #1

    Past tense and Past Perfect tense

    May I ask the differences between the sentences below?

    He worked in Saudi Arabia for several months.

    He had worked in Saudi Arabia for several months.

  2. Soup's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Past tense and Past Perfect tense

    The perfect is merging with the simple past in American English.

    Ellipsis:

    Ex: He (had) worked in Saudi Arabia for several months.

    ... the issue of whether the past perfect tense is falling out of use ... .

    The Usage Panel prefers the past perfect, but the simple past is often acceptable. Seventy-seven percent prefer had talked to talked in the sentence I asked if he had talked to his doctor. This leaves, of course, 23 percent for whom talked is unobjectionable. The panel is even more tolerant of the simple past in this example, which does not involve the reporting of discourse. In a sentence such as Before I was introduced to her, I heard/had heard the rumor about her, 59 percent would require had heard, while 41 percent would allow heard. Thus it seems likely that many readers will not notice the omission of had—that is, the use of the simple past in preference to the past perfect—in these situations.

    Source § 68. verbs, tenses of. 1. Grammar. The American Heritage Book of English Usage. 1996

  3. tuen tuen's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: Past tense and Past Perfect tense

    Thanks a lot for your clear explanations.


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    #4

    Re: Past tense and Past Perfect tense

    Is Brit.Eng. or Amer.Eng. spoken in Hong Kong?
    There is still a lot of difference in this to a British speaker!

  4. tuen tuen's Avatar
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    #5

    Re: Past tense and Past Perfect tense

    Hello David,

    Thanks a lot for responding to my thread. Since Hong Kong used to be a British colony, Hong Kong students are basically required to learn British English. However, as English is a worldwide spoken language, it is also necessary to learn American English so that we can tell the differences.

    tuen tuen


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    #6

    Re: Past tense and Past Perfect tense

    it is also necessary to learn American English so that we can tell the differences.
    Yes. However, there is a difference between understanding American idioms and slang, and adopting American grammar.

    As opposed to Past Perfect falling out of use in America, with the reality shows I watch, partly for enjoyment, partly to observe language use (e.g. Judge Judy), it seems to be thriving. I am very conscious of this because Americans seem to shy away from the use of contractions, so that whereas a Brit. would say, "I'd gone round to his house to...", they say "I had gone..." (though, of course, more often than not, it's "I had went..."!! The odd full pronunciation of 'had done something' stands out a mile.
    Just a few minutes ago, this occurred on the show: the judge asked about the circumstances of the wife's leaving the home.
    He: When she had went, she left owing..."
    He's using Past Perfect when there is absolutely no need to use it - the two events follow chronologically. I wish this Usage Panel that Soup quotes had written 'falling out of overuse'!
    They can also go too far: it is possible to dumb down language, and confine prose to the use of Simple Past tense, by recounting past events in strict chronological order. Such constructions as
    "He insisted I stay for dinner, though I had hoped to pop in and out and just return his book."
    will not be possible!

    Hence, in your sentences:
    He had worked in Saudi Arabia for several months.
    We would not use Past Perfect as an isolated sentence - there is no need. The following conversation would NOT occur:
    She: Where have you been?
    He: I had gone to the shop to buy a paper.
    She: Are you ready for tea?

    We use Past Perfect when we want to show the correct chronological order of two actions in the past. (It can also serve a dramatic function in creative writing, and I've made at least two contributions to different threads on this.")
    If used as an isolated sentence, there is no action for the Past Perfect action to "come before"
    So:
    'Our company is lucky to have him. Actually, he'd moved to Saudi Arabia to work for a company there, but he couldn't stand the heat, saw our ad for the position here, and came to live here instead."
    (Note Simple Present 'is', then Past Perfect, then Simple Past tense forms.)

    For more on Past Perfect and the difference between tenses, see the contributions (including mine) to the following threads:
    Jaskin
    past perfect or past simple, again
    Yesterday, 15.38

    John Kim
    I Had washed my car
    10 Oct. 2008 03.15
    Last edited by David L.; 21-Oct-2008 at 13:00.

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