a sequence of past events

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Bob8964

Senior Member
Chinese
Dear All,

1. He had served in the army for ten years; then he retired and married. His children were now at school.

2. He had stayed in his fater's firm till his fater died. Then he had started his own business and was now a very successful man.

The above two sentences are from my book. They are both about a man's past experiences, but I find that the tenses of the parts in blow are different. I think the difference might be casued by how we give an account of a sequence of past events: sentence 1 is to describe a man in chronolgical order(with the past simple), but sentence 2 is back from a point in the past(with the past perfect). Now, I have tried to complete them as below:

1. He joined the army when he was twenty. He had served in the army for ten years; then he retired and married. His children were now at school.

2. I met him two years ago. He had stayed in his fater's firm till his fater died. Then he had started his own business and was now a very successful man.

Please kindy advise whether my viewpoints are workable.

Thank you!
 
  • EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    I have tried to complete them as below: [...] Please kindy advise whether my viewpoints are workable.
    I think the first addition (in blue) is not correct but the second is.
    1. He joined the army when he was twenty. He had served in the army for ten years...
    This does not make sense to me: If he joins the army when he is twenty, he cannot at that time already have served in the army for ten years, which is how I understand those two clauses. You would have to use past perfect in your addition (which makes the past perfect in the next clause superfluous):
    He had joined the army when he was twenty. He (had) served in the army for ten years...

    2. I met him two years ago. He had stayed in his father's firm till his father died.
    This sequence is fine. Put together the sentences mean that at the time you met him, he had already been in his father's firm until the father died.
     

    Thomas Veil

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    The past perfect is sort of a "double past". It talks about a past that not only happened before the current time, but happened before something else that also happened before the current time. So if you want to put a sentence in front of the first example to make it make sense, you need something that happened after he served in the army ten years. For instance, "He was wounded during a battle. He had served in the army for ten years..."

    Here, him getting wounded happened before now. Him serving in the army happened before he got wounded, which in turn happened before now.
     

    Wertis

    Banned
    Russian
    Dear All,

    1. He had served in the army for ten years;then he retired and married.
    His children were now at school.


    2. He had stayed in his fater's firm till his fater died. Then he had started his own business and was now a very successful man.
    #1 is OK. #2 isn't. After "then" we should use Past Simple because "then" introduces a sequence of events. So I would suggest "Then he started ...." instead of ".... had started ...".

    1. He joined the army when he was twenty. :tick:
    He had served in the army for ten years; :cross: ["He served ...." because we're just enumerating what has happened in his life and career]
    then he retired and married. :tick:
    His children were now at school. :confused: [Why "were"? If you want to use "were", you shouldn't use "now" because the sentence is unclear to me. Just "are at school" and everything makes sense immediately if I've understood your ideas correctly]

    2. I met him two years ago. :tick:
    He had stayed in his fater's firm till his fater died. :tick:
    Then he had started his own business and was now a very successful man. :cross: [See above]
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Dear All,
    1. He joined the army when he was twenty. He had served in the army for ten years; then he retired and married. His children were now at school.

    2. I met him two years ago. He had stayed in his fater's firm till his fater died. Then he had started his own business and was now a very successful man.
    In sentence 1. there is no need for the pluperfect, "He served in the army" will do.
    In sentence 2. I prefer the word order "He had then started". But I have a problem with "now". It's ok in 1) but seems out of place in 2). Either leave it out or change the sentence to "was at the time".
     

    Bob8964

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    In sentence 2. I prefer the word order "He had then started". But I have a problem with "now". It's ok in 1) but seems out of place in 2). Either leave it out or change the sentence to "was at the time".
    I have made some change in red, please kindly check it:

    I met him two years ago. He had stayed in his fater's firm till his fater died; then he had started his own business. He was now a very successful man.

    In sentence 1. there is no need for the pluperfect, "He served in the army" will do.
    If we change the last sentence to the present, I think "served" would do:

    He joined the army when he was twenty. He served in the army for ten years; then he retired and married. His children are now at school.

    Regarding the original sentence, "his children were now at school" is a point in the past. Between this point of time and "his serving in the army for ten years", there is also a period of time in the past, "he retired and married":

    He joined the army when he was twenty. He had served in the army for ten years; then he retired and married(a period in the past). His children were now at school(a point in the past).

    So, in this context, it would be more grammatical to use the past perfect with "serving in the army for ten years".
     
    Last edited:

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Background information on the OP:

    The sentences found at the top of the original post are - as they stand (except for the misspelling of 'father') - from A Practical English Grammar by A.J. Thomson and A.V. Martinet: Oxford University Press, fourth edition (1986) (source1, source2).

    :arrow: Here's the informative text that surrounds example #1 in the OP. The grammar section is titled The past perfect tense, subsection Form and use, sub-subsection Use.
    "The present perfect [sic] can be used with since, for, always etc. for an action which began in the past and is still continuing or has only just finished. The past perfect can be used similarly for an action which began before the time of speaking in the past, and a) was still continuing at that time or b) stopped at that time or just before it. But note that the past perfect can also be used: c) for an action which stopped some time before the time of speaking. [Examples for a) and b).]
    c) He had served in the army for ten years; then he retired and married. His children were now at school.
    Here we cannot use either since or the past perfect continuous. Note also that the past perfect here has no present perfect equivalent. If we put the last verb in this sentence into the present tense the other tenses will change to the simple past.
    He served in the army for ten years; then he retired and married. His children are now at school."
    :arrow: Example #2 in the OP is from a succeeding subsection of The past perfect tense called Past and past perfect tenses in time clauses:
    "We have already stated that actions viewed in retrospect from a point in the past are expressed by the past perfect tense. If we have two such actions:
    He had been to school but he had learnt nothing there, so was now illiterate
    and wish to combine them with a time conjunction, we can use when etc. with two past perfect tenses:
    When he had been at school he had learnt nothing, so he was now illiterate.
    But it is more usual to put the verb in the time clause into the simple past:
    When he was at school he had learnt nothing,... Similarly: He had stayed in his father's firm till his father died. Then he had started his own business and was now a very successful man."
    (~ I prefer present-day grammar books.)
     
    Last edited:

    Bob8964

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Yes, both sentences are from this book. However, I'd like to go a bit further. So, I raised the questions on those two sentences in this thread, that is, why there are the different tenses used in them.
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    Comments on the use of language in the original post:

    • "The above two sentences are from my book." :tick:
    • "They are both about a man's past experiences," :confused: (They include as well the experiences of his children. And the two examples may refer to different men.)
    • "but I find that the tenses of the parts in blow are different." :confused: (I'd understand 'blow' as 'below' if the meaning had been more clear. But it can also be a misspelling of 'blue'. (I realize now that you probably mean 'bold'.))
    • "I think the difference might be casued by how we give an account of a sequence of past events:" :rolleyes: (I'd interpret the meaning of this clause to be: I think the choice between the past perfect and the simple past is affected by how we want to express the sequence of past events.)
    • "sentence 1 is to describe a man in chronolgical order (with the past simple)," :tick:
    • "but sentence 2 is back from a point in the past (with the past perfect)." :) (This is what the thread is all about: Why is past perfect used in the second example but not in the first despite them having the same structure?)
    • "Now, I have tried to complete them as below:" :confused: (I don't understand why. I feel it confuses the issue.)
     

    EStjarn

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    ...why there are the different tenses used in them.
    I think the second instance of past perfect in
    He had stayed in his father's firm till his father died. Then he had started his own business and was now a very successful man
    points out that his starting a business takes place immediately after the death of the father; i.e. there is no significant interruption between those events. As for
    He had served in the army for ten years; then he retired and married. His children were now at school,
    in the case of 'married' (instead of 'had married'), there may have been such an interruption. If not, the narrator simply doesn't care to reveal that detail. Concerning 'retired' (instead of 'had retired'), it's not necessary to point out that the retirement immediately followed the ten years in the army (which is not obvious regarding the start-up business in relation to the father's death). ~ Past perfect, someone's said, should be used when needed, and not for its own sake.
     
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