Had you seen the film before? [Past perfect tense]

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Meowmechon

New Member
Taiwanese
Hi all,
I'm a bit confused with the use of past perfect tense. I came across a sentence which appeared odd to me because
usually I recalled the past perfect should be used with a past marker. Below is the sentence I found :

ex. Had you seen the film before ?
(http://esl.fis.edu/grammar/rules/pastperf.htm)

And I suppose the following sentence is valid if the above is ?

ex. I had always been on that team "during my childhood/in the past/before". ("" indicates different past markers)

Thanks !
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    It is normal to use the past perfect in a question about some period in the past.

    If you use "Had you seen the film before?", you are asking your listener "Had you seen the film before the time that we are talking about?" The time we are talking about will be some time in the past. The question asks whether the listener had seen the film before that time in the past.
     

    Meowmechon

    New Member
    Taiwanese
    Thanks Owlman !

    So basically I can't really break the common usage that a past tense must be accompanied with a past marker.

    Is it correct to say : I had always wanted to join the football team when I was in high school.

    I have the dilemma that if I use simple past tense it would lose the feeling of going through a long duration in the past,
    but if I use past perfect tense it would violate the grammar as mentioned earlier.

    Thanks again
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    So basically I can't really break the common usage that a past tense must be accompanied with a past marker.
    Did you mean: 'a past perfect tense must be accompanied by a past marker'?
    If so, did you mean 'a past perfect tense must be accompanied by a past marker in the same sentence?'
    If that is your meaning, it is not a valid rule.
    Is it correct to say : I had always wanted to join the football team when I was in high school.
    That sentence is perfectly correct in grammar. That does not mean it is the right sentence to use in a given context.
    It will be the right sentence to use when the context is right for it.

    My rules for choice of past tenses are as follows (these are the rules I recommend and use as a check in cases of doubt):

    The present perfect places a past action in a present context.
    The past simple places a past action in a past context.
    The past perfect places a past action in a context prior to a past context.

    Thus your sentence 'I had always wanted to join the football team when I was in high school' will be correct if, in the context of that sentence, the time when you were wanting to join the team is prior to another time which is already in the past.

    There does not need to be a time marker in the same sentence as the past perfect tense: but there does need to be, either in or around that sentence, a context which is prior to a past context.

    Thus the sentence 'I had always wanted to join the school football team' is perfectly correct grammatically on its own, but it will not be the right sentence to use unless the context places the time of wanting prior to another past time.
     
    Last edited:

    Meowmechon

    New Member
    Taiwanese
    You're greatly appreciated, wandle ! That's a bountiful answer.
    However I still have some questions.

    For " I had always wanted to join the football team when I was in high school.", is it possible that you or people understand in a way that the whole period during the high school is reckoned as
    a large single past marker, and so the wanting is understood to precede the period of the entire high school life ?

    My guess is that the level of specification is the key. If I rewrite the sentence as " I had always wanted to join the football team when I entered high school.", the information and
    time is specific on a single point and that should make everything clear.

    Is the following sentence valid ? I made it up to demonstrate if I've understood the tense correctly, please by all means have a look.
    ex. In my childhood life had always been under poverty and I must take adversity as a usual part of life. During my days as an undergraduate, the situation persisted and I only had part-time jobs to finance myself.
    Context (as required) : The poverty spanned the whole childhood. Afterwards in university it still did.

    Thanks in advance for your review !
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    your sentence 'I had always wanted to join the football team when I was in high school' will be correct if, in the context of that sentence, the time when you were wanting to join the team is prior to another time which is already in the past.
    The question for the past perfect is: What is that other time (already in the past)?

    For example, it makes sense to say:
    'I had always wanted to be in the school football team. It was only when I started extra training on my own that I became good enough to be picked.'

    The second sentence here, with the past simple, creates an ordinary past context.
    The first sentence, with the past perfect, places the wanting in a context which is prior to (earlier than) the context of the second sentence.

    We can identify three relevant points of time:

    (1) the present, that is, the time when the speaker is saying these two sentences;
    (2) the ordinary past context, that is, the time when the speaker started extra training and got into the team;
    (3) the prior past context: that is, the time when the speaker had wanted, but had not been good enough, to get into the team.

    The simple past tense (it was ... when I started ... that I became) places the events of the second sentence in the ordinary past context, that is, one stage back in time from the present.
    The past perfect tense (I had ... wanted) places the wanting in the prior past context, that is, one stage back in time from the events of the second sentence.

    Thus the past perfect (I had ... wanted) places the wanting two stages back in the past from the present.
    The first sentence, with the past perfect, operates as a kind of flashback, looking back to a point earlier than the time of the second sentence.

    The first sentence, with the past perfect, depends upon the second sentence, with the past simple, to give it the context it needs.
    Without the kind of context provided by the second sentence, the past perfect tense in the first sentence is not appropriate.
     
    Last edited:

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Thanks Owlman !

    So basically I can't really break the common usage that a past tense must be accompanied with a past marker.

    Is it correct to say : I had always wanted to join the football team when I was in high school.

    I have the dilemma that if I use simple past tense it would lose the feeling of going through a long duration in the past,
    but if I use past perfect tense it would violate the grammar as mentioned earlier.

    Thanks again
    You can only do that if it is clear to both you and your listener that you are talking about some point in the past that is earlier than another point in the past. Otherwise, that use doesn't make sense.
     
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