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My team recently posted a status update,

On January 17th, our team had represented [organization name] at [place].

Though I am unable to explain why (I have never formally learned tenses), I am convinced that the 'had represented' part of the sentence is incorrect, or at the very least weird-sounding English (I'm open to being proven wrong). I have tried bringing it up but all it brought about was an endless argument.

Someone claimed that the sentence is formatted in past perfect tense, referencing this page: http://www.englishpage.com/verbpage/pastperfect.html

I am sensing a difference between the formatting of the question and the examples of past perfect tense given in the page, but I can't quite point it out convincingly.

Is the status correctly written?

As a side note, does it matter if it's British or American English?

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I think past perfect is right, but my understanding is that you need a reference point in time in the past for that, which is not the case in your example. That particular use of past perfect seems awkward/incorrect to me. Past perfect would be better suited if it were "our team had represented [---] at [---] before they paid us yesterday". In this case, you are referring to the event with respect to the time of payment. –  thang Jan 21 '13 at 17:17
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I would simply take had out (there's no reason for it to be there): ...our team represented x at x. –  spiceyokooko Jan 21 '13 at 17:23
    
@thang that should really be an answer. Past perfect needs simple past for reference. The sentence could be left as is and made perfectly grammatical simply by being put in context of simple-past sentences, but as it is right now there simply is no reference point and thus no justification whatsoever for the past perfect. –  RegDwigнt Jan 21 '13 at 17:23
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4 Answers

Because of the date mentioned and the fact that "represent" is in the past tense, the word "had" is superfluous. It's like saying "A few minutes ago, I recently did something."

It may be "correct," but just following grammar rules doesn't guarantee good style.

I would make sure they change it.

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Yes, that's past perfect. Perhaps the problem is just that you don't want past perfect tense. The simple past will inform the reader of the same facts:

On January 17th, our team represented [organization name] at [place].

You might favour the past perfect here if you were then going on to describe how that effected another event in the past, later than that one:

On January 17th, our team had represented [organization name] at [place], so we were already well-known there when we went in March.

You don't have to use it in this case, since the date makes the relationship between them clear. Consider without the date. The first two give exactly the same information:

Our team represented [organization name] at [place].

Our team had represented [organization name] at [place].

The second leads me to thinking "and then what", but that's no bad thing if you're going to tell me "and then what" later on. When we do bring up a later event, this jars:

Our team represented [organization name] at [place], so we were already well-known there when we went in March.

(In reading that, I tend to respond with "wait? what? when? are we talking about the same time here or what?").

This flows:

Our team had represented [organization name] at [place], so we were already well-known there when we went in March.

Okay, one event in the past followed by another event in the past. Perfectly understandable.

As a side note, does it matter if it's British or American English?

I've heard it said that American English is more tolerant than British English of using the past perfect with a stated date or time (as you have done). I'm not convinced that this regional difference exists. I'd read it as valid, but unnecessary. (Though my English is neither American nor British, of the two it would be closer to British on most things).

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I think that replacing On January 17th with By January 17th in the OP's provided sentence might serve as a useful comparison. –  coleopterist Jan 22 '13 at 4:54
    
@coleopterist yes, good point. In that case we'd really want the perfect. –  Jon Hanna Jan 22 '13 at 8:56
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We are playing in the realm of possessive phrases and participles.

First, let us get some background noise out of the way ...

Background noise:

Possessive phrase:

I have a ball.
I have eaten breakfast.

In such a possessive phrase

I possess {a possessed concept}

Where the possessed concept could be

In less than precise description, a participle is a verb or verb phrase that is structured in such a way that it is able to function

  • in place of a noun
  • as an adverb/adjective

Example of participles in action "Yesterday, I was/had {a concept}":

  • Yesterday, I was {a bird}. /* not a participle, just for comparison */
  • Yesterday, I was {eating}.
  • Yesterday, I was {eaten}.
  • Yesterday, I had {eaten}.

Explanation

The struggle you have is between

  • I played football for Manchester Utd.
  • I have played football for Manchester Utd.

The second sentence is a possessive phrase. The first sentence says that I performed an action. The 2nd sentence says I possess the experience of an action.

Let us compare the following:

  • Yesterday, we represented Westbrook High School.
  • Yesterday, I could say, we had represented Westbrook High School. Yes, by yesterday, we possess the experience of representing Westbrook High School. In fact, by yesterday, we had represented Westbrook High School for two seasons.

Confusion of have

The verb "have" is frequently confused between its possessive and alternative usages. I have a hypotheses why confusion occurs, as exemplified by the following. People seem to be confused by the proliferation of "have", "have had", ...

  1. I had breakfast.
  2. I have had breakfast.
  3. We had the opportunity of representing Westbrook High School.
  4. We have had the opportunity of representing Westbrook High School.

In the first sentence, "have" is used in place of "eat".

{I had breakfast} = {I ate breakfast}

In the 2nd sentence are two different uses of "have". First as a possessive verb, and 2nd, used in place of "eat".

{I have had breakfast} = {I have eaten breakfast}

In the 3rd sentence, it says

We took the opportunity. We possessed the opportunity.

In the 4th sentence, it says

We have taken the opportunity. We possess the experience of taking the opportunity.

In conclusion

The following sentence is used exactly and precisely.

On January 17th, we represented Westbrook High School at the Maine track and field.

The following sentence bears an uncomfortable hint of imprecision. Colloquially speaking, it is a widely used form to project emphasis. People tend to accept that throwing in more words to an action would place emphasis on that action.

On January 17th, we had represented Westbrook High School at the Maine track and field.

It says that on On January 17th, we possessed the experience of representing Westbrook High School at the Maine track and field - not necessarily that we actually did represent Westbrook High School on January 17th itself.

The sentence would feel more complete in one of the following ways.

  • On January 17th, we could say, we had represented Westbrook High School at the Maine track and field. On the day after our last event, we had the pleasure of realizing that we had represented Westbrook High School.
  • By January 17th, we had represented Westbrook High School at the Maine track and field on numerous occasions.
  • After January 17th, we had represented Westbrook High School at the Maine track and field on numerous occasions.
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Yes, it is past perfect.

I am sensing a difference between the formatting of the question and the examples of past perfect tense given in the page, but I can’t quite point it out convincingly.

The difference that you’re sensing but not identifying is that past perfect is used to refer to events two steps into the past.  A clause that uses the past perfect is typically coupled with a clause that uses ordinary past tense.

I did not have any money because I had lost my wallet.

->I did not have any money on Friday because I had lost my wallet on Thursday.

Tony knew Istanbul so well because he had visited the city several times.

->Tony knew Istanbul so well when he visited there in December because he had visited the city several times (before that trip).

Since your “team” sentence refers to only one past time, it is an improper use of the past perfect.

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