Past simple vs past perfect

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LT-HCM

New member
Dec 20, 2020
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Hello,

"When actions depict a series of events close to one another, use past simple" - that's what I was taught, for example:
- I had my dinner before I watched TV.

However, this site, the ENGLISH PAGE, states otherwise with this example:

- She never saw a bear before she moved to Alaska. Not Correct
- She had never seen a bear before she moved to Alaska. Correct


"The reason is that the site serves British English learners!" I was told. If so, the following sentence would be awkward:
- I had had my dinner before I watched TV after I had gone to ......

Could you please share your thoughts? Thanks.
 

englishgeek

Active member
Sep 23, 2020
527
105
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Thanks for joining the forum and your question.

Simple Past is used when we talk about events in the past in the order they happened. Past Perfect is used to look back from a certain time in the past to talk about what happened before.

I didn't go to India on my last trip.

I have never been to India.

I went to India after I read the book Shantaram.


The reason is that the site serves British English learners .
I believe this is standard English and there is no difference between British and American English in this regard. I am happy to be proven wrong though.
 

LT-HCM

New member
Dec 20, 2020
10
2
3
Hello again,

The sentences in question are the ones shown in my previous post:

"She never saw a bear before she moved to Alaska. Not Correct " (past simple + before + past simple)
"She had never seen a bear before she moved to Alaska. Correct " (past perfect + before + past simple)

Why is the first sentence Not Correct? British standard?

Could it be that the word 'never' introduces the sense of lasting or unfinished, so the first clause must be in the past perfect tense?

If that is the reason, then can we say, "She saw a bear before she moved to Alaska?" (past simple + before + past simple)

I am sorry for being unclear in my previous post.
 

englishgeek

Active member
Sep 23, 2020
527
105
43
She never saw a bear before she moved to Alaska. Apparently this is common in spoken American English. I come from Australia and our English is based on British English.

I didn't realize it so I will try and listen out for it.

The past simple is used when another past event does not rely on another past event.

For example, I went to the store and I saw a friend. (The two events took place in the past, but they aren’t related to each other.)

The past perfect is used for sequences that took place in the past, and for past actions that are connected to each other.
 

LT-HCM

New member
Dec 20, 2020
10
2
3
Thanks for the fine points. Let's look at this question from a different angle.

Many students rely on sentence structures to determine the verb tenses. They believe that one must use the past perfect when words such as 'before, 'after' are used. For examples:

"I had been to London once before 2009."
"I bought a house after I had saved enough money."


When someone tells them that it's all right to use the past simple when it's clear to the readers or listeners the time-order of the two actions or events, they get confused.

"I finished breakfast before my mom went to the market."
"I got up, had breakfast, brushed my teeth, took a shower, .....before I left home for school." (a series of time-order events in the past)


However, when they encounter this 'fill-in-the-blank' sentence, "When I got home, my dog _____________ (die)", they can either use past perfect or past progressive.; and that raises the question of the need for using the time-order conjunctions. The teacher then must show them that there's no need for the conjunctions as the order of the two events are clear.

"When the police arrived, the thief had left." (The thief left before the police arrived )
"When the police arrived, the thief was hiding in the basement." (Before the police arrived, the thief was in the house - when the police arrived, the thief was still in the house."


No clear rule - sometimes 'Yes' - sometimes 'No' is confusing.

Here is a guide from another online grammar site, https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org

"use the past perfect followed by before to show that an action was not done or was incomplete when the past simple action happened."
"They left before I'd spoken to them."
"Sadly, the author died before he'd finished the series."


Boy oh boy! That really helps clear the problem! What do you think?
 
Last edited:

alexanderfinn

New member
Feb 16, 2021
12
5
3
Both sentences are correct. The past perfect adds clarity but if the order of events is clear it is not absolutely necessary. American English tends to use fewer perfect tense, but this is not always true.