Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I noticed that my American friends tend to use the past perfect form when they use the verb mention in its past form, almost despite of the context of the sentence. I hear them say "you had mentioned" a lot more often even in situations where the use of simple past would have been perfectly fine. Have you noticed it too and is it one of those unwritten rules, or is there a more formal explanation to it?

It seems like there was more verbs like that, but I am having a hard time remembering it now. If I do, I will edit the post and likely change the title to accommodate other verbs.

share|improve this question
6  
Interesting observation. You are right that in many cases the "you mentioned" construction could easily have been substituted for "you had mentioned". My intuition is that it has something to do with register, and that "you had mentioned" is slightly more polite. This is similar to "I was wondering" in situations where "I wonder" would be appropriate. But it might not be the same thing. –  Kosmonaut Sep 1 '10 at 15:09

2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I agree that these are politeness forms that don't seem to relate directly or literally to the standard point in time corresponding to the tense being used. It seems to me that what "I was wondering" and "You had mentioned" have in common is that they soften the statement by moving it farther into the past. "I was wondering ... [but I'm only now bringing it up because it's not that urgent]" "You had mentioned ... [but maybe you wouldn't mention it now, so we don't have to talk about it if you don't want to]." "I thought" for "I think" would be another form that I think fits this pattern: "I thought ... [but now that you have said something else, I might be open to persuasion]."

share|improve this answer
    
Aptly explained ... Very nice. –  Ahmed Masud Jun 11 '12 at 19:05

The past tense is used to denote an action completed prior to some past point of time specified or implied.

She had gone by then.
When Sheila returned home, Mark had been in his room for 10 minutes.
When they arrived we had already started cooking.
He was very tired because he hadn't slept well.

In all these sentences, the past perfect is used for an action that is completed prior of the other actions (to start cooking was already complete before they arrived).

The use of the past perfect is not limited to some verbs, or a category of verbs.

share|improve this answer
    
Thank you for you reply. I do hear that come up way more often where that particular verb in being used, even where They don't necessairly denote an action completed prior to some past point of time specified or implied. Now, from your answer it sounds like I could be missing where They are implying/denoting it :) –  Tom Sep 1 '10 at 16:10
    
I'm so glad someone mentioned the past perfect (also known as pluperfect) tense. Vote up. –  J D OConal Sep 8 '10 at 1:07
    
As example of sentence where the past point of time is implied consider The comment has been deleted. –  kiamlaluno Sep 28 '10 at 14:18

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.