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Hello everyone

I came across the following sentence and can't figure out why the past perfect is used.

"Several days later, when the paper is returned, the student is dismayed to learn that the grade is not as high as she had hoped."

1. Is it a natural way to use the past perfect?

2. Can we use some other tenses? If so, do they carry the same meaning?

Thanks in advance for your help.

Cheers

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Hi taiman,

I wonder where this sentence of yours comes from. (Is it, as your topic suggests, a hypothetical / imagined sentence written by you?) What I find unnatural is the use of the present tense in your past narrative. In general, the past perfect is not used without the simple past. Your sentence should probably be:

”Several days later, when the paper was returned, the student was dismayed to learn that the grade was not as high as she had hoped."

In this sentence, “had hoped” is the only correct form to use, with the past perfect denoting a further distant action / state, also highlighting the contrast between a past hope and the current reality.

@Kinto posted:

What I find unnatural is the use of the present tense in your past narrative.

It's historic present:

'If the funeral had been yesterday, I could not recollect it better. The very air of the best parlour, when I went in at the door, the bright condition of the fire, the shining of the wine in the decanters, the patterns of the glasses and plates, the faint sweet smell of cake, the odour of Miss Murdstone’s dress, and our black clothes. Mr. Chillip is in the room, and comes to speak to me.

"And how is Master David?" he says, kindly.

I cannot tell him very well. I give him my hand, which he holds in his.'

— Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, Chapter IX

Hello there

I saw the sentence in question in the following text  from a book titled "Painless Vocabulary" :

According to Greek mythology, Zeus, the king of all the gods, suffered from a terrible headache. He summoned his son, Hephaestus, the god of the forge, and Zeus begged him to offer any relief he possibly could. Hephaestus lifted his ax and brought it down squarely on his father’s head. Out sprung Athena, the goddess of wisdom, fully grown and entirely perfect.

This sudden birth of perfection is not a good model for the writing process, but too many student writers think it is.

When students are given an assignment, they do what students typically do – they procrastinate! After wasting the required amount of time with whatever distractions are available, they eventually find a “quiet” spot to work (it’s just an iPod that won’t bother anyone else). Forty-five minutes later, a piece of writing emerges. The following day, this sheet of paper finds itself on the teacher’s desk.

Several days later, when the paper is returned, the student is dismayed to learn that the grade is not as high as she had hoped. She complains that the demanding teacher is too critical, that this cold, aloof person has never warmed to her personality, and that she loathes the subject anyway.

From its context, it seems ok to put the verbs in the simple present but I don't see why it should be "had hoped".  Sorry, I should have given the whole context instead of a sentence!

@taiman posted:

"Several days later, when the paper is returned, the student is dismayed to learn that the grade is not as high as she had hoped."

1. Is it a natural way to use the past perfect?

Hello, Taiman—I find the past perfect perfectly natural there, even though the simple past is also possible. Consider the following:

  • The grade is not as high as she had hoped it would be when she turned it in.

At the (past) time at which she turned in the paper, she had hoped (at an earlier past time) that her grade on the paper would be higher than it is now.

Hello, Taiman—I find the past perfect perfectly natural there, even though the simple past is also possible. Consider the following:

  • The grade is not as high as she had hoped it would be when she turned it in.

At the (past) time at which she turned in the paper, she had hoped (at an earlier past time) that her grade on the paper would be higher than it is now.

In your example, the use of past perfect is clear because the sentence has a subordinate clause with the past simple tense - what Taiman's excerpt lacks!

Since in Taiman's excerpt, there is no past simple tense relative to the past perfect one, it would suggest that the use of past perfect need not require it, which is not what you always read in textbooks.

I've always been taught to use past perfect only to show being further in the past than the other action, which should be in past simple. For example, "The burglars had been gone when the police came."

This is why a sentence like "The burglars had been gone" always felt to me incomplete - as if it were a subordinate clause.

Hello, Taiman—I find the past perfect perfectly natural there, even though the simple past is also possible. Consider the following:

  • The grade is not as high as she had hoped it would be when she turned it in.

At the (past) time at which she turned in the paper, she had hoped (at an earlier past time) that her grade on the paper would be higher than it is now.

This is inspiring. Thanks David, and Taiman for creating this.

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