Past perfect Flashback

  • Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Well, it is creative writing after all, so it might not be quite the same as everyday English, but I would say the answer is no. "When" shows that two things happen at the same time. The past perfect "had worried" shows that this comes before something in a previous sentence. However this now sets the time period for what follows, so there is no need for a second past perfect verb for something that happens at the same time or later.
     

    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    The website also explains why:

    She had worried about her sister’s drug problem when their mother died and had taken steps to find a suitable rehab program. But her sister continued to push her away over the years, and eventually, Joann decided to step back from the problem and stay available should her sister need her. She knew how stubborn and independent Julie could be.

    The past perfect tense can also be annoying if overdone. Once you’ve established that you’re going back in time, you can revert back to the simple past tense. In the above example, we reverted back to the past tense after “rehab program.” The flashback had already been established, and there was no need to continue with the past perfect.
     

    Ashiq

    Member
    Bangla
    The website also explains why:

    She had worried about her sister’s drug problem when their mother died and had taken steps to find a suitable rehab program. But her sister continued to push her away over the years, and eventually, Joann decided to step back from the problem and stay available should her sister need her. She knew how stubborn and independent Julie could be.

    The past perfect tense can also be annoying if overdone. Once you’ve established that you’re going back in time, you can revert back to the simple past tense. In the above example, we reverted back to the past tense after “rehab program.” The flashback had already been established, and there was no need to continue with the past perfect.
    Ok. But would it be grammatically incorrect to use "had died"? I mean to say, are there any grammatical restrictions here?
     

    Ashiq

    Member
    Bangla
    Well, it is creative writing after all, so it might not be quite the same as everyday English, but I would say the answer is no. "When" shows that two things happen at the same time. The past perfect "had worried" shows that this comes before something in a previous sentence. However this now sets the time period for what follows, so there is no need for a second past perfect verb for something that happens at the same time or later.
    Ok I understand it a bit. Though I need to improve my grammar I feel. But would you say it is grammatically incorrect to say "had died" or pointlessly verbose?
     

    olivecat

    Member
    English - American
    Honestly, I don't think either usage of "had" is correct the way the sentence is currently written. The past perfect tense is used for actions that happened before a past event not for an action (worrying) that happened simultaneously or after the event (the death). If you mean that she was worried about her sisters drug problem, and then her mother died, you would have to exchange "when" with "before" or some other such signifier that the death was second in the sequence of events, and use "had worried" in the past perfect tense (or "had been worried"). If you mean her mother died, and then she became worried, you need to change "when" with "after" or a similar descriptor, then you would use "had died" in the past present, and "worried" in the past. If you mean she had already been worried about her sisters drug problem, and then her mother died and she became more worried, than you need to convey that.
     

    Ashiq

    Member
    Bangla
    Honestly, I don't think either usage of "had" is correct the way the sentence is currently written. The past perfect tense is used for actions that happened before a past event not for an action (worrying) that happened simultaneously or after the event (the death). If you mean that she was worried about her sisters drug problem, and then her mother died, you would have to exchange "when" with "before" or some other such signifier that the death was second in the sequence of events, and use "had worried" in the past perfect tense (or "had been worried"). If you mean her mother died, and then she became worried, you need to change "when" with "after" or a similar descriptor, then you would use "had died" in the past present, and "worried" in the past. If you mean she had already been worried about her sisters drug problem, and then her mother died and she became more worried, than you need to convey that.
    I think the author of the article meant "when" to work as a cause with immediate effect. For example:
    "When I saw him, I called you immediately."

    Which is why I am confused as to why "had" was not used before "died".

    As to the context of past perfect, if we assume the context is that of a narrative set in simple past, wouldn't "had worried" be ok, if it referred to "past within the past"? Suppose the whole text is said in the simple past point of view, so that the worrying part is the "past in the past". For example:
    "I was looking at the sky when I remembered the last time it had rained. It had been a cloudy day, and the I had just finished eating dinner. The phone had rung. It had been Irene, checking in to see if I had done all the chores she'd asked."
    Is there anything wrong with using too many "had"s here?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Ok. But would it be grammatically incorrect to use "had died"? I mean to say, are there any grammatical restrictions here?
    In this case, I think "had died" is unambiguously wrong.

    However, in another situation, it might be acceptable. There is more than one reason for using the past perfect, and we can see two uses in the extended quote in post #3. "Had taken steps" does not shift the time of the sentence back any further, but instead is the past form of the present perfect, indicating the completion of an extended action before the time in question:
    "She has taken steps": Set in the present to show the completion of an action in the past.
    "She had taken steps": Set in the past to show the completion of an action before that point.​

    There are other reasons for using the present perfect and then changing it to the past perfect when talking about the past, but none that I can think of that can be used with either "she (had) worried" or "her mother died". The only reason I can think of for using "she had worried" is to move the time of the story backwards, and having moved it once there is no need to move it again with "had died".

    I think the author of the article meant "when" to work as a cause with immediate effect. For example:
    "When I saw him, I called you immediately."
    "When" can be used both for one event happening immediately after another and for two things happening simultaneously. In this passage, it is almost inconceivable to me that she worried about her sister's drug problem as a consequence of their mother dying. If the writer had meant a causal relationship, there are far better ways of saying it, including (as you yourself have done) putting the earlier event first in the sentence.

    "I was looking at the sky when I remembered the last time it had rained. It had been a cloudy day, and the I had just finished eating dinner. The phone had rung. It had been Irene, checking in to see if I had done all the chores she'd asked."
    Is there anything wrong with using too many "had"s here?
    Yes, it sounds horrible. What is the significance of the past perfect with the phone ringing and it being Irene? I cannot see any.
     

    olivecat

    Member
    English - American
    I don't think there's any issue with too many "hads," but the correct form or tense of "died" is not dependent on the form of "worried" used.
    To understand the correct tense, it helps to take out "about her sister's drug problem".
    "She had worried when their mother died." I take the "when" to mean "after."
    "She had been worried about her sister when (after?) their mother died."
    After reading the whole excerpt though, I think both "died" and "had died" could work.

    But for me, the biggest issue with using the past perfect for died is that "died" is rarely a verb that works in the past perfect tense.

    The past perfect tense "is used to refer to a noncontinuous action in the past that was already completed by the time another action in the past took place."

    Death is a continuous action that is never completed (unless someone is brought back to life). So "had died" would only really be appropriate in the context of "She had died after going into cardiac arrest, but was revived by the defibrillator." Or, "She had died a little inside before she realized nobody saw." In the example though, the fact that the mother "had died" was continuing.
     

    olivecat

    Member
    English - American
    In that case, since X's death and the lack of a body were both in the past respective to "before (now)", either both should be in the past perfect or neither. Otherwise, if only "had been no body" is in the past perfect, and "died" is in the past preterite, you're saying that there was already no body to be buried before X died, and X did have a body before X's death, so that would be incorrect. (because if there are two verbs and one is in the past perfect and the other just past preterite, that means the action in the past perfect was completed before the past preterite action took place). Of course, this is all complicated by the fact that death isn't so "perfectly" in the past in the book: deaths are faked, and people can still communicate afterwards; death isn't as final in the book as it is in real life. (How many times did Pettigrew "die" lol?)
     
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