Past Simple vs. Past Perfect (過去式 vs. 過去完成式)

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Past Perfect is used to emphasize an event or action that happened or completed before another one or before a specific time in the past; while Past Simple is used to indicate events or actions that happened in the past.

 

1.  When we use a time expression as in the case of “before” or “after”, which already indicates what happened first, Past Perfect is optional, and you can use Past Simple.

 

 

For example:

Jimmy had written an article about global warming before he was promoted to be the newspaper’s senior columnist for environmental issues this February. 

= Jimmy wrote an article about global warming before he was promoted to be the newspaper’s senior columnist for environmental issues this February. 

=>  The meaning of the above sentences does not change.  It is very obvious that the event of the article writing happened before the event of the promotion, so we can use Past Simple without changing the meaning of the sentence. 

 

She was so interested in the book that she read it for three hours before she realized it.  

 

She was so focused on eating that she finished the entire plate in three minutes before she realized it.

 

 

2.  Usually we use Past Simple to emphasize that the second event is the result of the first.

 

For example:

He was mowed down before he could answer.

Joanne got sick after she took the flu shot.

 

 

3.  When there is not a time expression to indicate what happened first, the meaning of the sentence changes when using Past Perfect vs. Past Simple.

 

1.   Jane wiped out John’s account when he left for Paris.

=> This means that the two actions happened roughly at the same time.  When John left for Paris, Jane immediately wiped out his account.  As soon as John left for Paris, Jane immediately wiped out his account. The event of John’s leaving for Paris happened a little bit earlier than the event of Jane’s wiping out John’s account.

 

2.  Jane had wiped out John’s account when he left for Paris.

=>  This means that one event happened before another.  The event of Jane’s wiping out the account happened before the event of John’s leaving for Paris.  By the time John left for Paris, all the money in John’s account was completely wiped out by Jane.


3.  John was in deep shock.  Jane had wiped out his account.   

=>  To make it clear that one action happened first before another, we use past perfect.  In this case, we use Past Perfect to make it clear that the event of Jane’s wiping out John’s account happened and completed before John realized it. 

 

 

See details for Past Simple at http://elisaenglish.pixnet.net/blog/post/2633919

and Past Perfect at http://elisaenglish.pixnet.net/blog/post/639613   

 

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