He had acquired the money through hard work

Bob8964

Senior Member
Chinese
Hi,

The following sentence is from my grammar book, Advanced Grammar in Use:

He had acquired the money through hard work, so he was reluctant to give it away.

I can't understand why the past perfect is used with acquire. As it just talk about how the money was got in the past, I think that the past simple seems more appropriate here, i.e., He acquired the money through hard work, so...

Could you please give me some comments on it?
 
  • Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Bob, it's in the past perfect because the the acquisition of the money was at a time further in the past than his being reluctant.

    At the time that he was reluctant (simple past), the money had already been acquired (past perfect).

    Ws:)
     

    Bob8964

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I'm still a bit confused. Now, if I want to move being reluctant into the present, please advise which tense, the past simple or the present perfect, should be used with acquire:

    I acquired or have acquired? the money through hard work, so I'm reluctant to give it away.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    If you wish to retain the same relative implication of the clauses as in the original, you should say:

    'I have acquired the money through hard work, so I'm reluctant to give it away'.

    This is how to express the idea in the mind of the person in the original sentence.

    Edit:
    Having said that, I cannot say that 'I acquired' is wrong. Both versions are possible.
    The sentence with the past perfect can express either.

    If we bear in mind how the present perfect explicitly links a past event to a present context, it is natural to think that in the original sentence the past perfect was explicitly linking the more distant past event to the less distant past context created by the phrase 'he was reluctant'.
     
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    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Perhaps your confusion, Bob, comes from the fact that there are two separate principles involved here:
    - (1) the question of the timing of an action (in the present, in the past, even more in the past)
    - (2) the question of how 'complete' or 'time-specific' a past action is (simple past, present perfect).

    In (1), the tenses concerned are the present, past, and past perfect. Note that, as wandle said, the tenses don't refer to absolute timing, but to the perception relative to another action or thought ...

    Recounting two separate past actions from my present perspective, I say:
    - "Jack arrived at 10 o'clock; Joe arrived at 11 o'clock" : both verbs in the simple past.
    Now if I want to relate Jack's arrival to Joe's (shifting the perspective to the moment of Joe's arrival), I say:
    - "Joe arrived at 11 o'clock; Jack had already arrived at 10 o'clock" : past perfect for Jack's action, to express that it's 'more past' than Joe's.

    In (2), we're looking at two ways of expressing a past action ...

    - If I say "Jack arrived at 10 o'clock", it's the simple past because I'm speaking of a completed action at a specific time. There's no indication of Jack's present status: he may have gone away or he may still be here.

    - If I say "Jack has arrived", the present perfect, as wandle said, links the past event to the present context: in this case, it indicates that he is still here. The emphasis is on the fact that he has arrived; the time at which he arrived is not relevant.

    Note that the existence of two tenses for the past doesn't have an equivalent for the 'even more past', where we have just the past perfect.

    .
    Applying the above to your question about I acquired vs I have acquired, again I'm with wandle: both versions are possible. In either case it's obvious from the second clause that you still have the money, but there's a nuance:
    - 'I acquired the money through hard work, so I'm reluctant to give it away' is essentially giving a reason for your reluctance.
    - 'I have acquired the money through hard work, so I'm reluctant to give it away' is doing the same, but with added emphasis on the fact that you still have it.

    That said, the distinction is more frequently made in BrE usage than in AmE.

    .
    Finally, since we were talking about being confused: I often find that the terminology used for English tenses is a source of confusion for some learners. The preterite (from Latin praeteritum = past); the present perfect (in effect a past tense); the past perfect (a 'more than past' tense). Personally I prefer the alternative names simple past, compound past and pluperfect (plu from plus = more), but the latter two names are rarely used in the context of the English language.

    Ws:)
     

    Bob8964

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Thank you, Ws and Wandle! I think I should have got your ideas.

    Now, for the original sentence, if I want to add a time expression to specify when the earlier event happened, please advise whether I should use the past perfect or past simple with acquire:

    1. I had acquired the money through hard work the previous year, so I was reluctant to get it away.

    2. I acquired the money through hard work the previous year, so I was reluctant to get it away.
     
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    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    You have asked a general question ('a time expression'), but given a particular example ('the previous year').

    Let me address the particular case. It is a very specific one.
    'The previous year' does not mean 'last year'. It means the year before a year already mentioned.

    Consequently, your example has created a context in which we know that a particular year has already been mentioned (I will call this 'Year 2') and that 'the previous year' means the year before that (I will call this 'Year 1').

    In other words, we can draw two conclusions:
    (1) 'the previous year' requires the past perfect, because that is the tense which sets the action one stage further back in the past than another point which is already in the past;
    (2) for this example sentence to be correctly used, you need a context (previous text) which contains or implies both Year 1 and Year 2.
     
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    Bob8964

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Now, please let me put the sentences with last year and the previous year together:

    I acquired the money through hard work last year, so I'm reluctant to get it away.

    I had acquired the money through hard work the previous year, so I was reluctant to get it away. (suppose that the year of the second action, being reluctant, has already been told in the context)

    Could you please check over again if I have used the correct tenses in them?
     
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    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    Both of those sentences are correct (though I'd change "get" back to "give"!).

    In the first one, "I'm reluctant" (present) is the datum. The acquisition is a past event (one time-step back from now) — and it must be the simple past ("I acquired") because it refers to a completed past action at a defined time ("last year").

    In the second one, "I was reluctant" (past) is the datum. The acquisition is already a past event relative to the past datum (so two time-steps back from now).
    So "I had acquired" is correct.

    Ws:)
     
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