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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.

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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.

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
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 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.)
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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.

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+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.
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