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past perfect

Discussion in 'English Only' started by klaudek626, Apr 4, 2013.

  1. klaudek626 Senior Member

    polski
    Hello,

    I know that we use the past perfect when talking about an action completed before antoher action in the past so the action which happened first takes the Past Perfect. According to the answerkey in the following examples both tenses are acceptable and I don't know why:
    1) The police arrested the burglars two days later, after they robbed/had robbed another flat. (according to the rule it should be the past perfect)
    2) The burglars had left/left some of the pizza because they had already had dinner. (again to my knowledge it should be had left. So why the past simple is optional?)
    And the third example which is quite different I think it's a mistake:
    3) After the police left, Kay had cleaned her flat. (according to me first the police left (past perfect) and then she cleaned her house (past simple)

    Thanks in advance,
    regards
     
  2. wolfbm1 Senior Member

    Poland
    Polish
    I wonder which rule it is. Michael Vince in First Certificate Language Practice, at page 6, says that when the words "before" and "after" are used to describe another past event we can use either the past perfect or the simple past. See the sample of this page.

    (You probably are not aware of the rule that we should ask one question at a time.)
     
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2013
  3. owlman5

    owlman5 Senior Member

    Colorado
    English-US
    I consider the past perfect to be an option in language about the past. We have many adverbs to help readers know what happened first and what happened later.

    In the first sentence, I don't need to see "had robbed" after the adverb "after". As compound tenses tend to draw attention to themselves, I prefer "robbed" in that sentence: The police arrested the burglars two days later, after they robbed another flat. If a writer is worried that a reader won't understand the chronology for some reason, then that writer can always reinforce an adverb with the past perfect: The police arrested the burglars two days later, after they had robbed another flat.

    In the second sentence, I prefer the simple past. Using it here makes sense because we already have one clause that uses the past perfect in that sentence. Why clutter the sentence with tenses that really aren't necessary?: The burglars left some of the pizza because they had already had dinner.

    I agree with Klaudek's opinion about the third sentence. If the writer wanted to use the past perfect, it should have been used in the first clause: After the police had left, Kay cleaned her flat. Once again, the simple past would have worked just fine in both clauses: After the police left, Kay cleaned her flat.
     
  4. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I can understand the confusion about this. I'm only going to try to answer one of the questions:

    I'll look at sentence 3).

    After the police left, Kay had cleaned her flat
    - is perfectly correct English, as is - After the police had left, Kay cleaned her flat.

    I'd make two points:

    1. It's wrong to think that when describing two actions in the past, where one occurs before the other, you must describe the one using the past perfect. The past perfect creates an atmosphere of anteriority, but other things can do that also - like clauses starting after. After the police left, Kay cleaned the flat is perfectly correct.

    2. The determining factor for tense choice in cases like the sentences in the OP is often the impression you wish to create with the main clause.

    In 3), After the police left, Kay had cleaned her flat, the main clause is in the past perfect. This creates the impression of anteriority, which may have been demanded by a preceding sentence, or used to condition what follows.

    If it read After the police had left, Kay had cleaned her flat, the double past perfect would create a heavy effect, and the past perfect of the main clause would lose impact.

    English at this level isn't simple. Learners are taught to put what went first into the past perfect, and then, when their level of proficiency in the language has improved, that there are other ways of expressing anteriority, and that the past perfect has other uses than the simple one they learned initially.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2013
  5. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    If we begin by assuming that this sentence has been correctly quoted by the original poster from an authoritative source, we need to explain how that use of tenses can be correct.

    The first point to remember is that the role of the past perfect is to set one action before another which is already in the past.

    If you read that statement carefully, you will see it does not say that the two actions must be present in the same sentence.
    In other words, in this case, 'had cleaned' does not mean that the cleaning took place before the police left.

    It means the cleaning took place before some other action, which is expressed in a separate sentence in the original story.
    What other action? We do not know until we read the other sentence in the original story.

    How do we know there was another sentence? Because this sentence says 'had cleaned'.
    That tells us there was another action, in the past, after the cleaning.
     
  6. rhitagawr

    rhitagawr Senior Member

    British English
    Here's my fourpenn'orth.
    1) I'd say had robbed is definitely better. Robbed on its own might mean that the burglars were arrested immediately after burgling the second flat.
    2) Both sentences are correct, although had left sounds like reported speech - The police discovered that the burglars had left some... If you're merely relating what happened then the simple left is better.
    3) If you're simply relating what happened then After the police had left, Kay cleaned her flat is as good as anything, although just left would be all right.

    The mere fact that one event precedes another is not in itself a reason for wanting the pluperfect. When I got home I cooked the dinner is fine. In After he had had several novels published, he decided to devote himself entirely to writing, the pluperfect puts some distance in time between the publishing and his decision or at least emphasises the order of events.
    It's often a difference of style and emphasis rather than of grammar. The pluperfect takes us further back into the past. Compare:
    (1) He learnt German while he was working in Germany. He had studied French at university.
    (2) He learnt German while he was working in Germany. He studied French at university.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2013
  7. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    (a) After the police had left, Kay cleaned her flat. Is this a good, correct, grammatical English sentence? Yes certainly.

    (b) After the police left, Kay had cleaned her flat. Is this a good, correct, grammatical English sentence? Yes certainly.

    If so, why are they different? Answer: because they belong to different contexts: they have different meanings and are describing different situations.

    We can go further than that. We can also say that in a context where sentence (a) is correct, then sentence (b) is incorrect; and where sentence (b) is correct, then sentence (a) is incorrect. (I say 'incorrect' here, not in the sense that it is ungrammatical, but that it expresses the wrong meaning.)
     
  8. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    I agree with what Wandle says initially here; both sentences are entirely correct grammatically.

    Whether the one precludes the other depends on other factors, I suspect. Often on these occasions we aren't concerned so much with meaning as with emphasis, with nuance.

    When a writer uses the past perfect as a main verb he often does so to create a sense of a past in which a series of things have already happened. The simple past cannot create this effect so easily, usually because each eventive use of the simple past calls up a particular moment. Its stative use doesn't have this effect so immediately, of course.
     
  9. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    It is not so much that one precludes the other as that they have different meanings and suit different contexts.

    Both sentences tell us that the cleaning happened after the police left.
    In sentence (b), 'had cleaned' does not place the cleaning before the police left: it places the cleaning before some other past action, not mentioned in this sentence, but mentioned (or implied) in another sentence of the same text.
    This implication is not created by sentence (a).

    Thus while both sentences express the same time sequence between the departure of the police and the cleaning, they are not interchangeable, but belong to different contexts.
     

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