1. victo
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    victo Active Member

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    Past perfect tense

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by victo, Jun 30, 2015.

    Past perfect tense describes an action that took place in the past before another past action. This tense is formed by using had with the past participle of the verb.

    The war had ended by the time the troops arrived.

    I think the trick with the above sentence is to place the word 'already' after 'had'. (The war had ALREADY ended by the time the troops arrived.)

    The war ended by the time the troops had arrived. (Does this sentence carry the same meaning like the one above?)

    Thanks,
    Victo
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The first sentence is clear without the addition of "already". (The added word is fine, but it isn't necessary.)

    The second sentence strikes me as awkward. Yes, I interpret it as having the same meaning, but it feels...wrong. I'm not sure if it's actually grammatically incorrect, or just awkward.
     
  3. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    The sentence, 'The war ended' is actually referring to real time or present tense, so technically it's grammatically incorrect.

    Essentially, in the second sentence, you're throwing the time frame off balance. You're saying that the war ended there and then, but the troops had already arrived, if that makes sense. We process these things mentally, but though we are unable to convey our reasoning into context we still understand such sentences as being incorrect, which is why @ChickenFreak said it feels wrong, because he knew he was wrong, he just couldn't quite figure out how to put it into words.

    But the first sentence is fine.
     
  4. Stacy C
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    Stacy C Banned

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    "The war had ended by the time the troops arrived."
     
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  5. CJT
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    CJT Member

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    The Perfect Tense is used to organise events on a time line, so that the reader/listener is able to understand the writer/speaker's viewpoint.

    It does this by joining two Past Simple sentences (or events) and joining them as clauses into a single compound sentence, in this case:

    1) The war ended
    2) The troops arrived

    For the sake of the sentence you presented, we are not interested in what the troops were doing prior to this arrival; there is the implied journey, but that is all.

    So, which happened first? In this case it is the war ended, so we need to put this sentence into the perfect, using had + Past Participle.

    The war had ended

    This can then be joined to the other sentence and becomes a clause. The, now, other clause containing the event that was effectively still in progress at the time of that event, and therefore was completed after, goes into the past simple tense.

    The troops arrived

    Using Time indicators, in this case by the time, to strengthen the sentence, adds emphasis to the clause, and helps link the two sentences, giving us:

    The war had ended by the time the troops arrived
    or,
    By the time the troops arrived, the war had ended

    Both sentences giving a clear indication, as to which event happened prior to the other.

    Does that help clarify it a bit? There is, of course, more to the Past Perfect, but that gives a, hopefully, clearer understanding!?
     
  6. victo
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    victo Active Member

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    Yes, it does. Thank you!
     
  7. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    Just to add. The first sentence was correct. The past perfect tense is used to describe an event that has happened but is now finished with. This is done by using the words had or had been etc.

    The past imperfect is used to describe an event that began in the past but which is still occuring. This is done by using was.

    So to compare and contrast:
    The war had ended - past perfect.
    The war was ending - past imperfect.

    As Mad Regent and CJT have said your second sentence is wrong - specifically because the first part of it is an immediate tense - the war ended is what the war is doing right now or has only just done - but then you try to choreograph this into the past by using the joining phrase "by the time" and then contrasting it behind the past perfect clause "the troops had arrived." In essence the war can't be ended right now if other events subsequent to is have already occurred and been completed.

    Stacy C's version is probably what you mean to say and is grammatically correct.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  8. victo
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    victo Active Member

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    Excellent. Thank you.
     
  9. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    Hi, @psychotick. Actually, what you've said isn't really true, but it can be easy to confuse this tense when looking at fiction writing.

    English--unlike some other languages--doesn't really make a distinction in tense between actions finished a long time ago and recently finished actions. Other words like "just" or "only a few moments ago" are the only way to know for sure. British people tend to use the present perfect for this (the war has just ended) and Americans go the past simple route (the war just ended). But it doesn't matter if it only ended two seconds ago or five years ago, past is past.

    "The troops arrived" is simple past tense. "The war ended" is also simple past tense. And saying which of the two actions happened before the other requires that past perfect. That's how it's used in everyday English.

    Now, because fiction is usually written in the past tense--as though all the events being described have already happened--when we want to take a step back and describe the stories past, it requires the past perfect. "John was a strong. (In the story, this is like the present.) He had always been strong. (The story's past.)"

    Sorry if this is exactly what you were trying to say, but I do think it's worth mentioning that actions started in the past and still continuing should use the present perfect (I've been working on it) or the present continuous (I am still working on it), and I'm just not sure what you meant by "immediate tense."
     
  10. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Lustrous,

    I'm sorry but I'm going to have to disagree (I think - I got a little confused in places reading your post). Consider the sentence - "He stopped." as an even simpler variant to "the war ended."

    "He stopped could be referring to an action that has just happened as I wrote it - thus it's present tense. It could also refer to something that happened some while ago - which makes it a past tense. Since there's no definition this tense is past imperfect as the best descriptor.

    Now let's add a "was" ie "He was stopped." Again this could refer to an action that is currently happening as in he is currently stopped. Or it could refer to an action that has happened in the past. Again past imperfect.

    Past perfect however, can only refer to an action that has been completed. So instead of adding a "was" we add an "had" ie "He had stopped." Now any way you read this sentence it cannot refer to an action that is still happening. It must be an action that has already been completed. Thus it is past perfect tense.

    Where your example goes astray as I see it is that instead of using "had" you used "has." Note the different tense.

    Now let's rewrite your sentence - removing the "just" because it's superfluous for our purposes and we get the two versions of the sentence as:

    The war has ended.

    and

    The war had ended.

    Note the difference. In the first one (without the just) the war has ended at some time in the past but also could still be something that has just ended right now as I relate this sentence. It's past imperfect. Adding the "just" however, makes it past perfect because I've given you a timeframe.

    "The war had ended" can only refer to an action that has been finished with. It does not need the "just" to define it as a completed action.

    You are correct in that this does not give any time period in which the war ended - it could be two seconds ago, or it could be two years ago. But what it cannot be is ending right now as I relate this sentence to you.

    Put another way if I am watching an event - an army coming to a stop and relating my experience to you, then as I see it happening I could say "The army has stopped". I could also say this if instead of seeing the army come to a stop I looked and found that they had already stopped when I looked. The sentence / tense covers both possibilities. Thus it is imperfect.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  11. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    I'm feeling the same way. :)

    "He stopped" is past tense. There's no way getting around this fact. If I'm conjugating my main verb into the past tense form of the verb, then I'm using the past tense.

    Using the past tense within a story is a narrative device, creating the illusion that these things actually once happened to someone. Once upon a time... But it's still the past tense.

    "He was stopped" is an example of passive voice. Passive voice is not a tense, and it makes the object the the subject. You can recognize passive voice by the question "by whom?" He was stopped. By whom? By the police.

    Past imperfect (called past continuous or past progressive) needs was/were and -ing on the main verb. If you do not have those things, it is not past continuous. [note: past imperfect for habitual actions uses "used to."]

    I don't know why you think it's not possible to use "just" with the present perfect. You absolutely can. Non-specific time words (just, already, still, yet) can be used with this tense.

    I'll end by saying that I am a certified English language teacher, and I like to think I know what I'm talking about in terms of grammar. (I hope, anyway.) So, that is to say, I'm very confident in my response here and it accuracy.
     
  12. CJT
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    @psychotick and @lustrousonion - sorry, psychotick but, lustousonion is correct.

    In your example of has and had, you are mixing the meanings.

    The war has ended
    This indicates that the war is over, but it doesn't matter when the event finished, just that it is in the past. This is used when the timeline of events is not important, or we are stating general information of the past.

    The past perfect is for when the order of past events is important. And it is formed by the rule:
    had + Past Participle

    so therefore:
    The war had ended.

    = an event that began and ended in the past, and the time that it ended is relevant to another action.
    In the OP's examples, he had two events and they required ordering - thus the use of the past perfect.

    Just using the sentence:
    The war had ended.
    - we are implying that it started and ended in the past, and that another event occurred in the past after it, that is important to the narrative - in the case of the OP, the troops arriving; even if they are not mentioned in the sentence, they would need to have been mentioned previously, and therefore implied by the used of the past perfect.

    I taught English as a Foreign Language for years, and this was always a tricky one - to get the hang of the 'why' of, as it can be implied, it can be used statively, etc.

    Edit - just seen lustrousonion's reply, and he also brings additional valid points!
     
  13. CJT
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    CJT Member

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  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that "He was stopped." in this context has a meaning similar to "He was thinking frantically." rather than "He was shoved against the wall." He was in a particular state of movement, and that state can be described as "stopped." So in the context of this example, it would not be passive voice.
     
  15. CJT
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    If there is someone other than the one who is stopped, mentioned as doing the action, then it would certainly be the passive voice, as the action is being done to you, rather than by you. As lustrousonion stated in his example, 'by the Police', and so subject and object are reversed, in the sense of the verb.

    The object in the active sentence becomes a subject in the passive sentence. The verb is changed to a “be” verb + past participle. The subject of the active sentence follows 'by' at the end of the sentence, or is omitted.
    Thus, in lustrousonion's example we get:

    Active - The Police stopped him.
    Passive - He was stopped (by the Police).

    this being the by whom? question that lustrousonion stated.

    But, as you said, context is important - a single sentence held up on it's own can fit into many grammar rules, or fall foul of as many!
     
  16. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    @ChickenFreak, you might be thinking of adjectives that look like verbs.
    "She was married." / "It was gone." / "They were ruined." But stopped isn't an adjective, so I don't believe it could work like that in this sentence. "He was stopped" can only be passive voice.

    I'm happy to be proven wrong, however. So maybe you have another example?
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Various examples of the same form:

    He was eating.
    He was seated.
    He was driving.
    He was in the car.
    He was standing.
    He was running.
    He was walking.
    The store was closed.
    The store was open.
    The store was having a sale.
    He was walking. Then he was stopping. Then he was stopped.
    His car was rolling. Then it was stopping. Then it was stopped.
    The clock was ticking. Then it was stuttering. Then it was stopped.
    Example from the Free Dictionary: The clock was stopped in the night.
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The above two might be the best example. "The store was open." doesn't suggest the question, "By whom?" If we wanted a "by whom?" we would have put it as "The store was opened."

    But "closed" doesn't offer two forms. So "The store was closed." might be directly analogous to "The store was open." OR "The store was opened."

    "He was stopped." similarly has two forms.

    Edited to add my "whoms" because they're correct, even if they make me twitch.
     
  19. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    He was/has stopped is a past tense description.

    He is stopping is a present tense description.

    And there are no grammatical rules; the numerous methods of sentence structure proves this. There is only the preferred standard that we abide by to formulate articulate sentences which thoroughly translates our context.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2015
  20. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    Closed and open are adjectives. The store is closed. / The store was closed. / The store will be closed. This is the same as: The boy is tall. / The boy was tall. / The boy will be tall.

    I went to Free Dictionary and looked; the example sentence reads: "The clock stopped in the night."

    "in the car" is a prepositional phrase.

    All your other examples use the past continuous.

    Yes, it is past tense using the passive voice.
     
  21. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ooh. You're right about this one, sorry. I transcribed what I expected it to say. The sentence was correct, but the dictionary doesn't vouch for it.

    Is "he was standing" also past tense using the passive voice? If not, then I don't think that "he was stopped" is, either.

    Edited to add: I think that we're not disagreeing about passive voice, but about the uses of the word "stopped". Assuming, that is, that you agree that "he was standing" is not passive voice.
     
  22. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    The whole voice thing is a bit overly complex and not a very solid concept in my opinion; it can be debated on from all angles.

    Such sentences depend a lot more on what you're trying to convey/context than the actual tense itself. Of course, you should work in the correct tense, but you shouldn't design your whole sentence on it. The sentence, 'he was stopped' does not have to be followed up by a description of the 'stopper.' It does, however, suggest that he was stopped by something, but including that 'something' is not necessary whatsoever.

    There is a fine line between things that happened in the past, and things that have already happened in the present. But in theory, present perfect is still past tense. It perplexes the mind.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2015
  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    To go on with "stopped":

    Verb: The clock stopped.
    Continuous verb: The clock was running for only fifteen seconds.
    Adjective? Continuous verb?: The clock was stopped for only fifteen seconds.

    I switch to another example;

    Jane asked, "John, what do you think?"
    John said, "It's stupid."

    Jane asked, "John, what do you think?"
    John was silent.

    Here, I do consider "silent" to be an adjective, even if it is directly parallel to the verb phrase above. Why do I see "stopped" as a continuous action, instead of an adjective? I do, but why?

    I have no justification for why. OK, @lustrousonion, I'm willing to accept now that this is my quirk.

    Edited to add: Oh. Except. Sorry. This depends on my seeing "stopped" as an adjective. So I guess I'm still not accepting passive voice. If it's a verb, I agree that it's passive voice; if it's not passive voice, it's an adjective. And I consider it an adjective.
     
  24. CJT
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    @ChickenFreak
    You're mixing up an action, and a state here.

    Using:
    the clock was stopped

    Action completed in the past, not caring who by - The clock stopped.
    Action completed in the past, by John - John stopped the clock.
    - Did John continue to stop the clock - to do that action or be involved in that action? No, he did it, and then the clock stopped running, there was no more action by John, who is the subject of the verb.
    - Saying at that point the clock was stopped (after John stopped the clock), is the same as saying the clock was blue, or the clock was ugly - you are telling us more about the clock, not the action that was done to it.
    So, that gives us..
    State - the clock was stopped

    Using the other example you gave, to also show state, over action:

    You could as well have said:

    Jane asked, "John, what do you think?"
    John was dead.
    (so was unable to answer)

    You are merely giving us further information on John's state, either way, not actions that he is doing.

    If you had wanted to show us John taking an action, you would need a verb:

    John didn't answer
    John
    refused to answer

    Does that make sense?
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2015
  25. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep, I follow all that. But none of it changes the fact that my own mind, my personal dialect, interprets 'John was stopped.' as a continuous action, rather like "John was walking." Of course that assumes that you would agree that "John was walking." is an action. I assume that you do?

    Also, we seem to be ignoring that the clock can stop all on its own, just as John can walk all on his own.
     

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