Thursday, 23 July 2015

When to Use Past Perfect Tense

ContentsGrammar in Dialogues → Past Perfect (When to Use)

In this page we examine the Past Perfect Tense in a detail: what it actually means and how it is used. Some illustrative extracts from English literature are given below.

Past Perfect expresses an action accomplished before a given past moment and viewed back from the past moment. It may be a single point action, an action of some duration or a recurrent action. The time of the action in most cases is not indicated. Here are some examples (1, 2).

Example 1:
Vincent Van Gogh is talking with his cousin Kay in Amsterdam.

Kay: What are you thinking about, Cousin? You seem preoccupied.
Vincent: I was thinking that Rembrandt would have liked to paint you.
Kay: Rembrandt only like to paint ugly old women, didn’t he?
Vincent: No. He painted beautiful old women, women who were poor or in some way unhappy, but who through sorrow had gained a soul.
Kay: Forgive me for being stupid. I understand what you mean about Rembrandt. He gets at the real essence of beauty, doesn’t he, when he paints those gnarled old people who have suffering and defeat carved into their faces.
(I. Stone. Lust for Life)


Example 2:
The two painters are passing Rembrandt’s old home in the Zee-straat in Amsterdam. (Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669) – a famous Dutch painter.)

Mendez da Costa: He died in poverty and disgrace.
Vincent Van Gogh: He didn’t die unhappy, though.
Mendez da Costa: No, he had expressed himself fully and he knew the worth of what he had done. He was the only one in his time who did. … What the world thought made little difference. Rembrandt had to paint. … painting was the stuff that held him together as a man. The chief value of art.? Vincent? lies in the expression it gives to the artist.
(I. Stone. Lust for Life)

Past Perfect like the Past Perfect Continuous expresses an action which began before a given past moment and continued into it or up to it. This use is associated with certain time indications: either a whole period of the duration of the action is indicated ot its starting point. This use of the Past Pefrect is found in the following cases:
a) With stative verbs (Examples 3, 4, 5).
b) With some dynamic verbs of durative meaning the Past Perfect may be used instead of the Past perfect Continuous with little difference in meaning, though the Past Perfect Continuous is preferred. (Example 6).
c) The Past Perfect is preferred to the Past Perfect Continuous in negative sentences, when the action itself is completely negated (Example 7).

Example 3.
Frederic Henry, a young American lieutenant at the Italian front, is having a date with Catherine Barkley, an English nurse. She is carrying a thin stick like a toy riding-crop, bound in leather.

Frederic: What is the stick?
Catherine: It belonged to a boy who was killed last year.
Frederic: I’m awfully sorry.
Catherine: He was a very nice boy. He was going to marry me and he was killed … They sent me the little stick. His mother sent it to me. They returned it with his things.
Frederic: Had you been engaged long?
Catherine: Eight years. We grew up together.
(E. Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms)

Example 4.
Alison married Jimmy against her parents’ will. They don’t get on. Now Alison tells her friend about a quarrel with her husband.

Alison: … For the first time in my life, I was cut off from the kind of people I’d always known, my family, my friends, everybody. And I’d burnt my boats. After all those weeks of brawling with Mummy and Daddy about Jimmy, I knew I couldn’t appeal to them without looking foolish and cheap. …
Helena: Darling, why didn’t you come to me?
(J. Osborne. Look Back in Anger)

Example 5.
Inspector Raglan is discussing his method with a famous detective.

Inspector Raglan: You don’t understand. … I’m telling you how I set to work. First of all, method. Mr Ackroyd was last seen alive at a quarter to ten by his niece, Miss Flora Avkroyd. That’s fact number one, isn’t it?
Hercule Poirot: If you say so.
Inspector Raglan: Well, it is. At half-past ten, the doctor here says that Mr Ackroyd had been dead at least half an hour. You stick to that, doctor?
Dr Sheppard: Certainly. Half an hour or longer.

Example 6:
Jean Paget, a young English woman from Southampton, is in London now and tells Mr Strachan, her lawyer, of her experiences in the war.

Jean:  I’ve never told you about that. … It all seems so remote, as if it was something that happened to another person, years ago - …
Mr Strachan: Isn’it better to leave it so?
Jean: … You know, out in Malaya, when we were dying of malaria and dysentery, shivering with fever in the rain, with no clothes and no food … I used to think about the rink * at Southampton … It was a sort of symbol of the life that used to be - … Directly I got back to England I went back to Southampton … It was because all through those years I had promised myself that one day I would go back and skate there again.
* (rink – a skating-rink)
(N. Shute. A Town Like Alice)

Example 7:
Estelle is much worried about Sylvia.

Estelle: … I’ve been worried crazy. … you’ve got no right to stay away like this and not let me hear from you in over a month. … You can imagine how I felt when I called your office and the told me you hadn’t worked there for the last four weeks. What happened, were you fired?
(T. Capote. Master Misery)