Past Perfect

Hello, everyone!

As far as I understand, the most important function of past perfect is to refer to 'earlier past'.

However, when I found the following sentences, I couldn't undertand the usage of past perfect, since the action of past perfect tense in the main clause obviously occurred later compared to the action of past tense in the subordinate clause.

Since I have often seen such sentences with above unexpected past perfect, I wonder if natives might have the usage that they use intentionally 'past perfect' tense instead of 'simple past' just to emphasize the image of 'completion, or experience', which doesn't mean the 'earlier past'.

Followings are the common ones in the same category in my question, I think, and, of course, I don't ask you to analyze all of them;

 

1. "A group of students from the drama college were sitting anxiously in the emergency room in the local hospital. Becky, one of their fellow students, had been run over by a van and the doctor was examining her. < When the van hit her she had fallen heavily and been knocked out. > An hour later, the doctor finished the examination, and they were told that Becky had no major injuries."

2. "Finally, they were able to come back to Auckland. Two years 'had passed' since the boys 'were washed' away from Auckland. Yet, all 15 boys grew up to be fine young men after their adventures at sea."

3. Dick was not a very good swimmer andhadn’t ridden a bicycle since he was six years old.

4. The site was originally occupied by a house, which had been destroyed during a bombing attack in 1945.

5. The frustrated interrogator was not going to give up easily. “Are you both still working in the company?” Barbara, appearing not the least disturbed by the woman’s incontinent insistence, scooped the last cherry out of her dish, smiled, looked directly at her, and said in the identical tone of voice, “We’ve separated, but the company is unaffected.” That shut her up. Barbara had shown her big winner’s badge by using “The Broken Record” technique, the most effective way to curtail an unwelcome cross-examination.

6. Oxygen, key to life on Earth today, began to appear on the planet millions of years earlier than scientists had thought.

6. The training staff was instructed neither to give handouts before the sessions nor to distribute the manuals until after the seminar had ended.

 

Best RGDS

Original Post
deepcosmos posted:

As far as I understand, the most important function of past perfect is to refer to 'earlier past'.

However, when I found the following sentences, I couldn't under[s]tand the usage of past perfect, since the action of past perfect tense in the main clause obviously occurred later compared to the action of past tense in the subordinate clause.

Hello again, DeepCosmos,

I apologize for the delay in responding to your questions. Brevity and succinctness are much appreciated. If I need to spend a while studying a post, this increases the likelihood of my not responding to it right away.

It seems to me that the examples you have quoted embody your understanding of the main usage of the past perfect. I don't see any conflict. If you do, perhaps you could choose just one of the examples and briefly identify your difficulty.

David, Moderator posted:

It seems to me that the examples you have quoted embody your understanding of the main usage of the past perfect. I don't see any conflict.

Appreciate your reply.

2. "Finally, they were able to come back to Auckland. Two years 'had passed' since the boys 'were washed' away from Auckland. Yet, all 15 boys grew up to be fine young men after their adventures at sea."

While the boys' being were washed' away is the action occurred earier in the past and the two years' passing  is the action done later in the past, I assume above 'had passed' can't refer to 'earlier past' and so the sentence should be re-written into "Two years passed since .. ".

Best RGDS,

Hi, Deepcosmos,

What accounts for the presence of "had passed" in paragraph (2) is the linker "since." We can imagine that sentence to be the backshifted version of this other sentence said in a present context:

2'. Two years have passed since the boys were washed away from Auckland.

The fact that the boys were washed away from Auckland is clearly set in the past. If (2') needs to be fully set in a past context, as is the case with (2), then "have passed" becomes "had passed" but "were washed" remains the same.

Gustavo, Contributor posted:

2'. Two years have passed since the boys were washed away from Auckland.

The fact that the boys were washed away from Auckland is clearly set in the past. If (2') needs to be fully set in a past context, as is the case with (2), then "have passed" becomes "had passed" but "were washed" remains the same.

Thanks very much for your clear explanation, Mr.Gustavo.

Then, can I understand your logic will be applied to following sentence; 

4. The site was originally occupied by a house, which had been destroyed during a bombing attack in 1945.

Thanking in advance,

No, I find that sentence to be different. I think a past context closer to the present is missing (if you have what follows, please provide it), and that would justify the use of "had been destroyed." As opposed to "being occupied," which indicates a state and is conveniently expressed in a simple tense, the destruction of the house -- which refers to an action -- is stated in the past perfect to reflect anteriority with respect to that past context which is not explicit.

Gustavo, Contributor posted:

No, I find that sentence to be different. I think a past context closer to the present is missing (if you have what follows, please provide it), and that would justify the use of "had been destroyed."

Thanks for reply. Please find the full sentences as follows;

"The Dancing House is one of the most interesting Prague houses built at the end of the 20th century. It represents a man and a woman dancing together. This amazing building was designed by a Czech architect Vlado Milunic, together with a Canadian architect Frank Gehry. The site was originally occupied by a house, which had been destroyed during a bombing attack in 1945. The very non-traditional design was controversial at the time, but it has become one of the most acclaimed modern buildings in Prague. In 1996, it received the Design of the Year Award from the American Time magazine."

Best RGDS,

Thank you, Deepcosmos, for proving the context. The adverb "originally" is doing the trick there. Let's put the three sentences in chronological order:

A. The site was originally occupied by a house.
B. The house was destroyed during a bombing attack in 1945.
C. The Dancing House was designed and built at the end of the 20th century.

When the three sentences are put together, (B) is turned into the past perfect to mark its anteriority with respect to (C), but (A) remains in the past simple because:

A1. "originally" clearly states that that was the first event in the history of the site.
A2. "be occupied" refers to a state and can remain in the simple form.
A3. the past perfect should not be overused and should be reserved for those cases in which it is strictly necessary.

Gustavo, Contributor posted:

A. The site was originally occupied by a house.
B. The house was destroyed during a bombing attack in 1945.
C. The Dancing House was designed and built at the end of the 20th century.

When the three sentences are put together, (B) is turned into the past perfect to mark its anteriority with respect to (C), but (A) remains in the past simple because:

A2. "be occupied" refers to a state and can remain in the simple form.
A3. the past perfect should not be overused and shou

Really thank you, Mr.Gustavo.

In case (B) has been written in the quoted sentence with the tense-'was destroyed', which doesn't mark its anteriority with respect to (C), you as native feel it natural also?

Best RGDD,

Hi, Deepcosmos,

I'll give you my opinion as a teacher and a translator with almost 40 years experience (I'm not a native speaker).

You seem to be asking if the text would sound natural with the change marked in bold below:

"The Dancing House is one of the most interesting Prague houses built at the end of the 20th century. It represents a man and a woman dancing together. This amazing building was designed by a Czech architect Vlado Milunic, together with a Canadian architect Frank Gehry. The site was originally occupied by a house, which was destroyed during a bombing attack in 1945. The very non-traditional design was controversial at the time, but it has become one of the most acclaimed modern buildings in Prague. In 1996, it received the Design of the Year Award from the American Time magazine."

I find the text above to be fine, since 1945 is clearly earlier than the end of the 20th century and, even if the past perfect "had been destroyed" may sound more elegant when properly combined with the other verbs in the past simple, the past perfect is not essential in this case in which the adverbials of time provide a clear chronological order.

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