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Past Perfect showing completion

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Past Perfect showing completion

Postby Enigma » Wed Feb 17, 2010 9:26 pm

Expressions of time usually indicate clearly what tense and aspect is needed.

However, there are a few mysterious conjunctions (enigmas, if you will) that deceive. Before is one of them; until/till is another.

When a sentence has a subordinate clause headed with before, the main clause will usually contain the past simple or past perfect:

a) I (had) shouted at Dave before I hit him.

An anomaly can exist with these conjunctions--though you may not be aware of it because natives intuitively apply verb tenses and aspects:

b) "Before the storm had ended but after the worst was over, the captain radioed for help."

One may think that the tenses and aspects should be identicle to sentence a--that the past perfect doesn't belong in the 'before' clause, but rather in the main clause, because the 'ending' happens after the captain radioed.

But, in sentence b, the function of the past perfect is similar to that of the present perfect in sentences in the present tense; that is, the past perfect shows completion rather than time sequence.

I'll exemplify once more:

c) He refused to go until he saw all the pictures.

vs.

d) He refused to go until he had seen all the pictures.

Using the same sentence in the present tense shows clearly that the past perfect above is used to show completion, just like the present perfect does below:

e) I refuse to go until I see all the pictures.

vs.

f) I refuse to go until I have seen all the pictures.


My question: If I were not to bother showing the sense of completion conveyed by the past perfect--as in sentence d (which isn't essential as shown in the examples above), is the following sentence grammatical?

He had refused to go till he saw all the pictures.
What you see, yet can not see over, is as good as infinite. ~Thomas Carlyle
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Re: Past Perfect showing completion

Postby Audiendus » Thu Feb 18, 2010 10:31 am

Enigma wrote:My question: If I were not to bother showing the sense of completion conveyed by the past perfect--as in sentence d (which isn't essential as shown in the examples above), is the following sentence grammatical?

He had refused to go till he saw all the pictures.

It is grammatical, but you need to be careful here. The sentence could mean either:

(a) He had said that, until he saw all the pictures, he would not go; or
(b) Until he saw all the pictures, he had refused to go.

If you say "saw" in your sentence, it tends to suggest (b), when you actually mean (a). If you say "had seen", it tends more to suggest (a), although there is still some ambiguity. So I think "had seen" is better in this case.
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Postby saparris » Thu Feb 18, 2010 1:56 pm

If you say "saw" in your sentence, it tends to suggest (b), when you actually mean (a). If you say "had seen", it tends more to suggest (a), although there is still some ambiguity. So I think "had seen" is better in this case.


Such potential confusion is avoided by the use of tenses that best convey the intended meaning, so I see no reason not to use the ones that avoid ambiguity.
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Re: Past Perfect showing completion

Postby Enigma » Thu Feb 18, 2010 6:22 pm

Audiendus wrote:
Enigma wrote:My question: If I were not to bother showing the sense of completion conveyed by the past perfect--as in sentence d (which isn't essential as shown in the examples above), is the following sentence grammatical?

He had refused to go till he saw all the pictures.

It is grammatical, but you need to be careful here. The sentence could mean either:

(a) He had said that, until he saw all the pictures, he would not go; or
(b) Until he saw all the pictures, he had refused to go.

If you say "saw" in your sentence, it tends to suggest (b), when you actually mean (a). If you say "had seen", it tends more to suggest (a), although there is still some ambiguity. So I think "had seen" is better in this case.


I see what you mean. Cheers.
What you see, yet can not see over, is as good as infinite. ~Thomas Carlyle
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Postby Enigma » Thu Feb 18, 2010 7:28 pm

What about:

He had refused to go, until he had seen all the pictures.

I think the choice between the past perfect and past simple in the main clause makes no difference to the meaning-- It just changes the time from in the past to the past in the past.

Would you agree?
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Postby Audiendus » Thu Feb 18, 2010 8:37 pm

Enigma wrote:He had refused to go, until he had seen all the pictures.

The comma definitely suggests meaning (b). He saw all the pictures, then he agreed to go. (Whereas with meaning (a), he might have changed his mind and stayed.)

Enigma wrote:I think the choice between the past perfect and past simple in the main clause makes no difference to the meaning-- It just changes the time from in the past to the past in the past.

Would you agree?

Yes. My comments apply equally whether the main clause uses the past simple or past perfect.
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Postby Enigma » Thu Feb 18, 2010 9:02 pm

The comma definitely suggests meaning (b). He saw all the pictures, then he agreed to go. (Whereas with meaning (a), he might have changed his mind and stayed.)

Agree.

Yes. My comments apply equally whether the main clause uses the past simple or past perfect.


Which would you prefer? The past perfect or past simple in the main clause?
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Postby Audiendus » Thu Feb 18, 2010 9:36 pm

Enigma wrote:Which would you prefer? The past perfect or past simple in the main clause?

It depends on the context of the main clause alone. Imagine that the sentence had read "He [had] refused to go immediately". Decide which tense would sound better there in the context of the passage as a whole, and use that tense in the main clause of your sentence. Don't be influenced by the tense of the subordinate clause.
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Postby Enigma » Thu Feb 18, 2010 10:08 pm

Audiendus wrote:
Enigma wrote:Which would you prefer? The past perfect or past simple in the main clause?

It depends on the context of the main clause alone. Imagine that the sentence had read "He [had] refused to go immediately". Decide which tense would sound better there in the context of the passage as a whole, and use that tense in the main clause of your sentence. Don't be influenced by the tense of the subordinate clause.


Sorry, I was unclear. I meant in the context we have. Perhaps it can't be determined without the rest of the context.
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Postby saparris » Thu Feb 18, 2010 10:28 pm

Sorry, I was unclear. I meant in the context we have.


We have no context here.
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Postby Enigma » Sat Feb 20, 2010 10:26 am

Audiendus wrote:
Enigma wrote:Which would you prefer? The past perfect or past simple in the main clause?

It depends on the context of the main clause alone. Imagine that the sentence had read "He [had] refused to go immediately". Decide which tense would sound better there in the context of the passage as a whole, and use that tense in the main clause of your sentence. Don't be influenced by the tense of the subordinate clause.


So you're saying the tense and aspect of the main verb is not influenced by the tense and aspect of the subordinate clause?

Before I went to school, I had eaten a big breakfast.

But, here, the tense and aspect of the main clause is influenced by the subordinate...
What you see, yet can not see over, is as good as infinite. ~Thomas Carlyle
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Postby Audiendus » Sat Feb 20, 2010 6:07 pm

Enigma wrote:Before I went to school, I had eaten a big breakfast.

But, here, the tense and aspect of the main clause is influenced by the subordinate...

I don't think so. Consider the following:

1. I got up at 7am. Before I went to school, I ate a big breakfast.

2. I arrived at school at 8am. Before I went to school, I had eaten a big breakfast.

You can see from the above that the tense of the main verb is influenced not by that of the subordinate verb (which is the same in each case), but by the context created by the previous sentence. The first example describes events forwards, hence the past simple; the second describes them backwards, hence the past perfect.
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Postby Enigma » Sat Feb 20, 2010 6:13 pm

Audiendus wrote:
Enigma wrote:Before I went to school, I had eaten a big breakfast.

But, here, the tense and aspect of the main clause is influenced by the subordinate...

I don't think so. Consider the following:

1. I got up at 7am. Before I went to school, I ate a big breakfast.

2. I arrived at school at 8am. Before I went to school, I had eaten a big breakfast.

You can see from the above that the tense of the main verb is influenced not by that of the subordinate verb (which is the same in each case), but by the context created by the previous sentence. The first example describes events forwards, hence the past simple; the second describes them backwards, hence the past perfect.


Hmmm... I'm unsure. Anything I've ever read on time sequencing and the past perfect suggests to place the past perfect in the main clause to show that it happens before the subordinate. These explanations to me imply that there is a mutual relationship between the main and subordinate clause--that sometimes the main clause tense is determined by the tense and aspect of the subordinate.
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Postby Enigma » Sat Feb 20, 2010 6:17 pm

This is an explanation for the use of the past perfect, and it seems to imply the mutual relationship I've been talking of:

What happened first? What happened second?

First: Sam cooked dinner.

Second: Carol got home.

Therefore, the answer is

Before Carol got home, Sam had already cooked dinner.


http://www.myenglishteacher.net/pastperfecttense.html
What you see, yet can not see over, is as good as infinite. ~Thomas Carlyle
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Postby Audiendus » Sat Feb 20, 2010 6:40 pm

So do you think the past simple is incorrect in my first example?
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