Differences between took and had taken

Discussion in 'English Only' started by KatieHa, May 1, 2012.

  1. KatieHa New Member

    Cantonese
    Hi, all. I'm new here.

    I found study English is an interesting thing recently.

    I have just finished an English exercise and it stated the sentences below are all correct. What are the difference between them? I found they all described actions in the past.

    1) I took the pen before she did.
    2) I had taken the pen before she did.

    Thank you in advance.
     
  2. Hau Ruck

    Hau Ruck Senior Member

    United States - Midwest
    English - U.S.
    Welcome to the forums.

    "Took" is past tense. "Had taken" is past perfect.
     
  3. AquisM Senior Member

    Hong Kong
    English/Cantonese
    Hi KatieHa. This is quite hard to understand Chinese speakers as Chinese has no distinction between the simple and perfect tenses (believe me, I know :D). I'll give you a few links to start.

    http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/pastperfect.html (2nd sentence)
    http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/simplepast.html (1st sentence)

    There are too many differences and similarities between the two tenses for us to show them to you individually. Generally, the simple past (took) is used to make general statements/single events about the past, while the past perfect (had taken) is used to show a completed action before another, both occurring in the past.

    I hope this helps.
     
  4. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    To extend what Aquis said, an English speaker will find 2 on its own somewhat unusual: it implies another reference time point in the past after the "taking" and the listener will expect some additional information to be provided about something that happened after the taking but before the present - or that information has already been provided.
     
  5. AquisM Senior Member

    Hong Kong
    English/Cantonese
    Yes, thank you JulianStuart. I was so absorbed in finding a link and explaining that I forgot to mention which one is the correct, or at least, the preferred one. :D :p
     
  6. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    The conjuction before does allow any combination of past with past perfect, but ellipsis can be problematic. Sentence 2 sounds odd to me in isolation because I don't use did to mean "had taken" (did have taken being invalid). I prefer did = "took" and had = "had taken":

    I took the pen before she had. :cross:
    I took the pen before she did. :tick: [In other words, before she took it. First I took it, then she took it.]
    I had taken the pen before she did. :cross:
    I had taken the pen before she had. :tick: [In other words, before she had taken it. She did not take it until after I took it, but, at the time in question, she had already taken it.]

    But if we assume different context, sentence 2 is valid (stressing the word did):

    I know she left with the whole box. I had taken the pen before she did. [In other words, before she left.]

    And even my last sentence works in context (stressing the word had):

    I knew she was going to leave. I took the pen before she had. [In other words, before she had (ever) left. When I took the pen, she had not (yet) left.]
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2012
  7. KatieHa New Member

    Cantonese
    Thanks a lot. This is a fruitful discussion. I get more than I can imagine (I hope you understand what I mean:p; I am not good in English:D.)

    Thanks, AquisM. The links are very useful.

    However, after I saw the reply of Forero, I realised that I have misunderstood the sentences. Actually, I thought "she did not take any pen since he already took it away". .....Well, dear all, how can I express this particular meaning if still using the similar structures of the original sentences?
     
  8. Hau Ruck

    Hau Ruck Senior Member

    United States - Midwest
    English - U.S.
    You could say:
    "I took the pen before she had a chance to take it."
    "I took the pen before she could."


    "I had already taken the pen before she had a chance to."
    "I had already taken the pen before she could."
     
  9. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Hi, KatieHa.

    First, the word any does not fit your sentence since he could perhaps take any pen and still leave a pen for her to take. I assume you mean "She did not take the pen since he had already taken it away." (It = "the pen", i.e. the pen she therefore could not take.)

    That idea could be expressed lots of ways using took or had taken:

    I took the pen away before she ever could.
    I took the pen away before she ever could have.
    I had taken the pen away before she ever could.
    I had taken the pen away before she ever could have.
    I had already taken the pen away before she might have taken it.

    Unfortunately all these ways are a little ambiguous since none of them actually says she did not take the pen. Saying that using before but without using not takes a little more work:

    I took the pen away before any time she ever could have.
    I took the pen away before any opportunity for her to have taken it.
    I took the pen away before her only chance to have taken it.

    In this type of sentence, because of the conjunction before, the action in the main clause obviously happens first, whether the other action happened or whether it never did, so past perfect is not needed in the main clause— unless you need to put the action of the main clause of this sentence at an earlier time than the action in some part of the context outside of this sentence.

    A perfect is appropriate in the before clause because the action in the before clause was not complete at the time focused on in the main clause. For example, "I took the pen before she had even seen it" expresses the same time relationship as "When I took the pen, she had not even seen it". Her seeing the pen was not something already in the past ("perfect") at the time I took the pen.

    I hope this makes sense.
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2012

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