Usage of Simple past + for

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ALEX1981X

Banned
Italian
Hi all

I've found this sentence on a newspaper.

Context: a man telling his past life experience

At that time (june 1970) I was the headmaster of the school for 3 years

Is it correct ??

Or do you natives think that it would be better written using "had been" ??

At that time (june 1970)I had been the headmaster of the school for 3 years


I know that simple past plus for can be used to express duration of a past and concluded action.Something that happened and continued over time in the past but completely finished
I'd like to go into deep on this

Thanks everybody
 
  • Yankee_inCA

    Senior Member
    Definitely, 100% had been! "At that time" has already placed him in the past, so the writer needed to go "plu-perfect" (or whatever they call it these days) to go past the past. The uncorrected sentence sounds like something from a non-native speaker. Good catch.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    At that time (june 1970) I was the headmaster of the school for 3 years

    There is one other, unlikely interpretation of this sentence. In June 1970 he was the school's headmaster. His tenure as a headmaster had already begun then and from present perspective he knows that it lasted for 3 years. So it probably ended in 1972 or 1973. So the speaker is, in effect, saying that in 1970 he was the headmaster of the school and that he remained so for 3 years. At least that's what I would think if I saw this sentence in a newspaper unless context ruled it out.

    But otherwise I totally agree with Yankee.
     

    ALEX1981X

    Banned
    Italian
    Thanks Boozer and Yankee

    So the "problem" is the adverb "at that time" that seems to need a plu-perfect

    And what If we dropped "at that time" ??

    Let's imagine a declaration like this : I was the headmaster of that school for 3 years (I'm not in charge anymore at the moment)

    Might it work guys?
     
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    zipp404

    Senior Member
    Bilingual English|Español
    'At that time" is an adverbial phrase with a specifictemporal value, that is to say it anchors an action or a state at a specific 'point' in time.

    1. The sentence, as written originally, At that time (june 1970) I was the headmaster of the school for 3years is very poorly written because of the tense of the verb [was], because in English months are capitalized , and the number 3 should have been wrtitten three.

    2. The sentence should be (as YankeeinCa) suggests:

    At that time I had been headmaster of the school of three years which means that the person became headmaster of the school at some point in 1967, and in 1970 he had already been in that position for three eyars: 1967-68; 1968-69; 1969-1970.

    The sentence I was the headmaster of the school for three years is correct, and does not anchor the state (of being headmaster) at any specific time in the past. It simply states that the person held that position for a period of time at some unspecififed time in the past.

    [P.S. Hello Alex :)]
     
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    Tunalagatta

    Senior Member
    English - England
    At that time (june 1970) I was the headmaster of the school for 3 years

    There is one other, unlikely interpretation of this sentence. In June 1970 he was the school's headmaster. His tenure as a headmaster had already begun then and from present perspective he knows that it lasted for 3 years. So it probably ended in 1972 or 1973. So the speaker is, in effect, saying that in 1970 he was the headmaster of the school and that he remained so for 3 years. At least that's what I would think if I saw this sentence in a newspaper unless context ruled it out.

    But otherwise I totally agree with Yankee.
    Hi boozer,

    I know you say it is unlikely, but even so, I think if this is what the author had meant, it would read, From that time onwards I was headmaster for (the next) three years, or even, from that time on I was to be headmaster for (the next) three years.

    I think it is the case of a schoolboy error...:rolleyes: and agree with everything else that's been said.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Hi boozer,

    I know you say it is unlikely, but even so, I think if this is what the author had meant, it would read, From that time onwards I was headmaster for (the next) three years, or even, from that time on I was to be headmaster for (the next) three years.

    I think it is the case of a schoolboy error...:rolleyes: and agree with everything else that's been said.
    Don't get me wrong - I'm not adamant that this is actually the case and I will certainly not die arguing about it. :D

    But if you read a newspaper article that was otherwise written in good English and gave no indication of the author having recurrent grammar problems, how else would you interpret such a sentence?

    Surely there are millions of better ways of saying what I suggested might be the author's meaning, I know.

    And, mind you, I'm not discounting the likelihood of this being a simple error.

    Cheers, Tuna :)
     

    Insignia

    Banned
    italian
    As regards the sentence discussed I would say "At that time (june 1970) I had been the headmaster of the school for 3 years" because "for" requires the usage of Past Perfect.
     

    Tunalagatta

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Don't get me wrong - I'm not adamant that this is actually the case and I will certainly not die arguing about it. :D

    But if you read a newspaper article that was otherwise written in good English and gave no indication of the author having recurrent grammar problems, how else would you interpret such a sentence?

    Surely there are millions of better ways of saying what I suggested might be the author's meaning, I know.

    And, mind you, I'm not discounting the likelihood of this being a simple error.

    Cheers, Tuna :)
    Oh no, I know you know, but I think the original is just plain confused - it doesn't quite seem to mean one thing or the other - so your interpretation could be right, but the original sentence is still incorrect, whatever it is trying to say.

    Cheers :)
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Who is the man whose words are reproduced by the newspaper? It's difficult to come to a reasonably informed view without this information and without any sort of context.

    Is he a non-native speaker?
    Is he a dialect speaker? (I'm not even sure that "At that time I was the headmaster of the school for three years" is good grammar in any dialect.)
    Could it be that he uses the simple past in order to make his story sound more "immediate"?

    I agree with those who have said that "At that time I had been headmaster of the school for three years" is standard English.
     
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    Insignia

    Banned
    italian
    The main problem here is that "at that time" needs Past Simple, while "for three years" is normally used with Past Perfect or Present Perfect. That's why the sentence is confusing from the very beginning.
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    while "for three years" is normally used with Past Perfect or Present Perfect...
    because "for" requires the usage of Past Perfect.
    Welcome to the forum. :)

    This is certainly not true, Insignia. In itself "for" does not require any particular tense. It's the other way round - when you use a perfect tense (any perfect tense), you might want to specify the time period with the help of "for".

    Some examples with different tenses:
    For two years I was crippled by repeated foot injuries, caused simply by the shoes I was wearing.
    He was put on probation for two years.
    My training will last for two years.


    and so on...
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I read the sentence with the meaning that Boozer calls "unlikely" in Post #3, which I see as the intended meaning. The only thing I see wrong with the sentence is "june 1970" instead of "June, 1970".
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    Then, I must have developed an American way of seeing things. :D

    The joke aside, it greatly depends on who wrote this. If the article in question abounds with grammar errors, most likely this is one of them. If not, I would indeed read it in the manner described in post 3. I mean, I would never suspect someone like, say, Mark Twain or Jerome K. Jerome of using substandard English. :)
     

    Tunalagatta

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Ah, but wouldn't an American have used principal, not headmaster? ;) It could be an American who worked as a headmaster in the UK, I suppose.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Several people have said that the sentence strikes them as ungrammatical.

    Two people have offered contexts in which they would find it grammatical.


    Without further context, it is not possible to settle the question, and the discussion is wandering far afield.


    Please wait to allow the original poster to provide the information we need.


    Cagey, English Only moderator.
     

    ALEX1981X

    Banned
    Italian
    Thanks Cagey and all the friends for their replies

    Unfortunately there's no so much context apart that sentence in a piece of newspaper that I was reading a few days ago that buffled me.

    Like all of you I'm inclined to see it like a sort of grammar mistake and I understood the sentence like Boozer and Forero said. (But I don't like it).

    I don't know if he/she is a native speaker because I forgot to have a look at the end of the article .I apologize guys

    The most important thing is that that sentence, without "at that time" can have a meaning and would be correct as Zipp explained

    Had been is the way to go

    Thanks guys
     
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