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Past Perfect showing completion

You have words - now what do you do with them?

Postby Enigma » Sat Feb 20, 2010 6:52 pm

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


I don't know if that's the right way to look at it. If you add in another main clause, as done below, which clause are you meant to base your decision on?

I arrived at school at 8am. And I left at 3pm. Before I went to school, I had eaten/ate a big breakfast.
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Postby Audiendus » Sat Feb 20, 2010 8:32 pm

Consider this:

I got up at 7am, and then, before I went to school, I ate a large breakfast.

Surely the "then" makes it impossible to use the past perfect ("had eaten") here? See what I mean about going by the context, rather than the tense of the subordinate verb?
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Postby Enigma » Sat Feb 20, 2010 8:55 pm

I definitely agree that the greater context has an influence over the tense and aspect used in the main clause. But I'm not convinced the subordinate clause has no influence.

I haven't found any sources that explicitly state how the tense/aspect of the main clause is determined. I know you are meant to keep one general tense all the way through your passage (that is the approach you speak of). But I also get the feeling that in some instances the subordinate clause has some influence also. Maybe I'm wrong, but that is just what I've inferred from the explanations I've read.
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Postby saparris » Sat Feb 20, 2010 11:32 pm

I definitely agree that the greater context has an influence over the tense and aspect used in the main clause. But I'm not convinced the subordinate clause has no influence.


I am going to have to come down on the side of context over tense/aspect. We write and speak to convey meaning, and we choose tenses so that we can convey the meaning we intend.

There is a certain truth to your feeling that a subordinate clause influences the tense of a main clause, but it not an influence created by a grammatical relationship. Rather, it is created by a semantic relationship between clauses. Take the following sentence as an example:

If I were not afraid of losing my job, I would tell by boss how I feel about his new policy.

Grammatically, the conditional is required in the main clause because the subordinate clause is subjunctive (expressing a counterfactual condition). However, the context of the situation (that is, the fact that I am afraid of losing my job, creates the need for the subjunctive as well as the conditional in the main clause. If I were not afraid of losing my job, the context would be different, and—as a result—so would the grammar.

If the sentence regarding getting up and eating breakfast, there are several choices you could make regarding tense, and the choices should be made because of context, not grammar. Consider the following:

Before I left for school, I ate a big breakfast.
In this sentence, there is at least a chance that there is no significant relationship between going to school and eating breakfast. It could simply describe the order of two events.

Before I left for school, I had eaten a big breakfast.
Here, there is at least a hint that the big breakfast will have an effect on what happens after I arrive at school. If this is indeed the case, then had eaten is a better choice—not because of the grammatical relationship between the two clauses, but because had eaten suggests a more meaningful relationship between two actions.

In short, meaning is everything, and the right tenses help convey precisely what is intended.
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Postby Enigma » Sat Feb 20, 2010 11:55 pm

http://www.myenglishteacher.net/pastperfecttense.html

This site explains the use of the past perfect, using the sentence in discussion. It justifies the use of the past perfect for the reason I have mentioned :?

My logic (or lack thereof) was that the past perfect shows something happens before something else. That, I'm sure we can agree on. The link above refers to it as the 'past past.'

I noticed the house was still clean from the cleanup I had done earlier that day.

had done shows it happened before noticed.
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Postby Slava » Sun Feb 21, 2010 12:05 am

saparris wrote:Before I left for school, I had eaten a big breakfast.
Here, there is at least a hint that the big breakfast will have an effect on what happens after I arrive at school. If this is indeed the case, then had eaten is a better choice—not because of the grammatical relationship between the two clauses, but because had eaten suggests a more meaningful relationship between two actions.
Very nice summation saparris. This quote above puts very nicely what I was trying to formulate.

The "had eaten" bit does imply, and to me very strongly, a connection with something else. The example I came up with was, "Before going to school, I had eaten a big breakfast, forgetting that my first class that day was Gym (Phys. Ed.). That's why I was a slug at dodge-ball."
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Postby Enigma » Sun Feb 21, 2010 4:36 am

but it not an influence created by a grammatical relationship. Rather, it is created by a semantic relationship between clauses.


I'm not quite sure how you interpreted my earlier posts--I too think the choice of tense and aspect is a matter of semantics; that is, I choose the past perfect if I want to show something happened before something else.

My question was asking whether the main clause uses a past perfect verb to show the action precedes an action in the attached subordinate clause, or if only the subordinate clause uses a past perfect verb to show one action precedes the action in the main clause.

Is this how you understood my question?
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Postby saparris » Sun Feb 21, 2010 2:24 pm

My logic (or lack thereof) was that the past perfect shows something happens before something else. That, I'm sure we can agree on. The link above refers to it as the 'past past.'


I agree that the past perfect is used to show that one thing has happened before another, but it's not always necessary to use the past perfect to show that.

Before I left for school, I ate a big breakfast.

There's no past perfect here, but there is also no doubt about the sequence of events.

As I said earlier, the past perfect is certainly correct.

Before I left for school, I had eaten a big breakfast.


However, it suggests that the breakfast will play a role while I am at school, which means that it's used contextually, although we might not yet know why.

My question was asking whether the main clause uses a past perfect verb to show the action precedes an action in the attached subordinate clause, or if only the subordinate clause uses a past perfect verb to show one action precedes the action in the main clause.


Could be either:

I had lived is several countries when I moved to France.
After I had lived in France for two years, I bought a house.
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Postby Enigma » Sun Feb 21, 2010 7:20 pm

Audiendus said in response to my question about what tense/aspect the main clause should be in:

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 agree that this is wrong then? The sentence can be influenced by the tense of the subordinate. That's all I was getting at: not only does the context of the passage as a whole have an influence, but also the subordinate clause does.
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Postby Audiendus » Sun Feb 21, 2010 8:04 pm

Enigma wrote:The sentence can be influenced by the tense of the subordinate.

Can you please give an example of a pair of sentences where a change in the tense of the subordinate requires a corresponding change in the tense of the main verb?
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Postby Enigma » Sun Feb 21, 2010 8:20 pm

Audiendus wrote:
Enigma wrote:The sentence can be influenced by the tense of the subordinate.

Can you please give an example of a pair of sentences where a change in the tense of the subordinate requires a corresponding change in the tense of the main verb?


I'm not sure if a change in the tense of the subordinate will necessitate a change in the tense of the main clause. But that doesn't mean the tense of the subordinate doesn't influence the tense of the main clause. For example,


John had gone out when I arrived in the office

The past perfect is used here to show the going happened before the arriving. Had there not been a subordinate clause, the past perfect would not be necessary, thereby showing the subordinate influences the tense of the main clause.
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Postby Slava » Sun Feb 21, 2010 8:35 pm

Enigma wrote:John had gone out when I arrived in the office

The past perfect is used here to show the going happened before the arriving. Had there not been a subordinate clause, the past perfect would not be necessary, thereby showing the subordinate influences the tense of the main clause.
I'm afraid you don't have a subordinate clause here. As I understand it, a subordinate clause cannot stand alone as a sentence. These two parts can, and would make Hemingway proud.

John had gone out. I arrived in the office.
I arrived in the office. John had gone out.


The "when" is just a connector.

The tenses are used to show the time frame of the events, but are not dependent on each other as tenses.
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Postby saparris » Sun Feb 21, 2010 8:41 pm

The "when" is just a connector.


Nope. "When" is a subordinating conjunction in this case, which creates a subordinate clause.
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Postby Enigma » Sun Feb 21, 2010 8:51 pm

Slava wrote:
Enigma wrote:John had gone out when I arrived in the office

The past perfect is used here to show the going happened before the arriving. Had there not been a subordinate clause, the past perfect would not be necessary, thereby showing the subordinate influences the tense of the main clause.
I'm afraid you don't have a subordinate clause here. As I understand it, a subordinate clause cannot stand alone as a sentence. These two parts can, and would make Hemingway proud.

John had gone out. I arrived in the office.
I arrived in the office. John had gone out.


The "when" is just a connector.

The tenses are used to show the time frame of the events, but are not dependent on each other as tenses.


The subordinating conjunction 'when' is what makes it dependent. Without it, the sentence could stand on its own.
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Postby saparris » Sun Feb 21, 2010 9:09 pm

I'm not sure if a change in the tense of the subordinate will necessitate a change in the tense of the main clause. But that doesn't mean the tense of the subordinate doesn't influence the tense of the main clause. For example,


John had gone out when I arrived in the office

The past perfect is used here to show the going happened before the arriving. Had there not been a subordinate clause, the past perfect would not be necessary, thereby showing the subordinate influences the tense of the main clause
.

NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!

If there were not a subordinate clause, it would be because a subordinate clause was not needed for the sake of context. Period.

Now, of course, there is a "relationship" between the verb in a main clause and a subordinate clause, but is a sematic one. The verbs are chosen to express the correct meaning. That's is why there you have a choice between ate and had eaten in the sentence we discussed above.

Verbs are chosen to express nuances of meaning according to the context of the entire thought (be it a sentence, a paragraph, or more.)

It's the thought that counts.

Clearly, you can't say "Before I arrived at school, I will eat a big breakfast." It makes no sense. There is no context that makes it sensible. But you can say I ate, I had eaten, I was eating, etc. Your choice depends on the what happens in the story you're telling. And this is CONTEXT.
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