I hadn't heard about that --Using past perfect in this way??


Senior Member

I always hear native speakers say things like:
A: May and Ben are getting married next month!
B: I hadn't heard about that.
As in:
C: Remember to hand in your project next Monday.
D: I had forgotten that.

I've heard them or seen them in daily life and books. I think they are correct, since native speakers do use it.
But my question is, why? It's quite confusing to me. I wonder why they sometimes choose to use past perfect instead of past tense or present perfect. Like in B, in could also be:"I've never heard about them." or in D, it can be "I forgot that!".

I guess there is/are some reason(s) behind it. And my guess is, there is a difference in aspect. Like if we use the past perfect, we kind of "push" things in to the past to create some "distance" from now. I mentioned it's quite confusing to me, because, we all know that we use past perfect for an action or duration happened before another action in the past. But I understand there is also exceptions to rules, so I think, maybe native speakers do have a specific time in mind when they say it, it's just that, they usually leave them out. Like in B, it's actually "I hadn't heard about that (before you told me)."

My assumption is, this is a special use of past perfect (or not? like I stated, they do have a time in mind)?
Dear native speakers, what are you thinking when you are using them?
Why not just use past tense or present perfect sometimes? Is there a difference in meaning or aspect?

Please comment and explain.
Thanks so much!
  • JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I think it refers back to the instant when the hearing or remembering occurred (at the end of the speech by the person doing the informing or reminding). Now the speaker knows or remembers and the transition is in the past. The use of "had" refers to a past state/action which is before a later point in time, but before the present. "I had done X until Y" (when Y is also in the past):
    "I hadn't heard about that (until you just told/reminded me a minute ago)"


    Senior Member
    Hi Julian! Great to hear from you:)

    I get your point.
    So, as you said, "Now the speaker knows or remembers and the transition is in the past.". Do you agree that we're kind of pushing things back to the past, like if we use present perfect in the first situation, it suggests you've never heard about it before, it's 'connected' to now. But if we use past perfect, we are emphasising we never heard about it before you just told me (it can be like this,during the conversation; at the end of the speech, but the part of informing or remembering is finished is done, as you suggested.), but now I know and I've heard about it, the transition is in the past.

    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    English, U.S.
    I can't add much to the explanation by JulianStuart.
    The past perfect says that past event 1 is prior to past event 2.
    Here is what makes your examples "a special use of past perfect":
    In both of your examples, event 2 is the speech act by speakers "A" and "C".
    Event 1 is B's not hearing (really a "non-event"), or D's forgetting.
    Speakers "B" and "D" are both responding, in effect, as follows:
    "You just now said something to me, two seconds into the past.
    I did something prior to that past: not hearing (B) or forgetting (D)."

    Let me restate B's response, first in the present perfect, then in the simple past, and continue the dialog:
    A: May and Ben are getting married next month!
    B: I haven't heard about that.
    A: Yes you have! I just now told you!
    B: I mean, except for your telling me, I haven't heard it.
    A: Well, do you believe me, or don't you?

    A: May and Ben are getting married next month!
    B: I didn't hear about that.
    A: Well, you were out of town when they announced it.
    [There was a specific time when you might have heard about it, but you missed it.]

    Meanwhile, I think Speaker D could say "I forgot that", and it would have basically the same meaning.
    But if D said "I have forgotten that", it could mean "As far as I'm concerned, it's going to stay forgotten. I don't intend to hand it in."


    Senior Member
    Thanks so much for your detailed explanation!
    I understand it much more better now.
    I agree there are differences in meaning when we use different tenses in my cases.

    Thanks again!
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