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 guess it's about simple past vs. past perfect usage but some examples are welcomed, I'm really not sure if I understand it correctly.

EDIT: Right, probably I should be more specific. The thing is currently I'm reading one (american) book where, of course, a narration style dominates. And yet, the main protagonist often changes a tense from "I was" to "I had been" and I simply can't figure out the rule.

share|improve this question

closed as general reference by Kris, tchrist, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, Kristina Lopez, Robusto Apr 3 '13 at 1:29

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

2  
tutorials on past vs past perfect are likely to be of help here in providing examples. –  aedia λ Jun 20 '11 at 21:27
    
I don't think this question is on topic here. Why don't you read up on the tenses a bit and ask any specific questions you have here? For example, "rule x says y, and yet example z seems to contradict this; how come?". –  Cerberus Jun 20 '11 at 21:29
4  
    
OK, I've been paying more attention while reading the book and realized there's really nothing strange going on. Flagged to remove as it's really not a good question. My apologies. –  Miro Kropacek Jun 24 '11 at 18:58
    
You can visit the English and Literary Department of the University of Nigeria via unn.edu.ng/department/english-and-literary-studies for answers to this question. –  user41692 Apr 2 '13 at 11:11

3 Answers 3

To me, "had been" implies a change of state:

  • The phone rang. I was asleep. (No implication of state change. Further sentences would clarify if the speaker woke up, or never heard it.)
  • The phone rang. I had been asleep. (But I after it rang, I wasn't asleep any more.)
share|improve this answer

The past perfect, or pluperfect, is used to introduce a past event that took place before another past event:

I had worked as a bricklayer for five years before I was promoted.

To indicate that an event took place in the past without relating it to another event, you would use the simple past tense.

I worked as a bricklayer for five years.

share|improve this answer

+1 to Joe McMahon. Allow me to don my technical writing hat. Using "weak" grammar is one of my pet peeves!

Don't use past and future tense out of context, when making a statement. Using direct words makes a strong, clear statement. The following examples have no punctuation, to emphasize grammar. The first of the paired sentences is weak and milk-toast -- the second is the Chuck Norris version.

  • I just wanted to ask if you could correct your spelling.
  • I want you to correct your spelling.

This sentence sounds awkward:

  • I had been walking when I was asked for spare change.
  • I was walking when asked for spare change.
share|improve this answer

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