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Having seen one sentence in "Practical English Usage" by M.Swan (a very popular grammar book), I was really puzzled.

I waited until the rain had stopped.

The past perfect is generally used to show that one past action was completed before the other one, but here, trying to analyze the sentence, we can't say that first the rain stopped and then she waited. I can't grasp the use of using the past perfect in this sentence.

Why does this sentence use the past perfect?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The past perfect is used to emphasise completion of a past action. Example:

I arrived home after my wife had gone to bed.

In other words: "My wife went to bed. Sometime after that I arrived home."

In your sentence, the speaker is using the past perfect to emphasise the following:

It stopped raining. Sometime after that I stopped waiting (because I was sure that the rain had stopped.)

If you do not wish to emphasise the point about the rain stopping, it is perfectly ok to say:

I waited until the rain stopped.

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In the present tense it would be I wait until the rain has stopped. That is actually an unlikely sentence, as we'd probably say I'll wait until the rain has stopped. The point, however, is that by putting both wait and has in the past tense we move the action from the present to some time before the moment of speaking or writing.

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The thing that I couldn't understand was that "stop" is used in the past perfect, although it can't be considered to be a standard case in which we usually use this tense. Here we can't say that the rain stopped and then he waited.. But I was explained in the previous post that here we can say that it stopped raining and then he stopped waiting. Anyway, the sentence doesn't seem to be very logical to me –  Desert Jan 5 '12 at 10:27
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@Desert: What is your native language? –  Barrie England Jan 5 '12 at 10:44
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@Desert: Unfortunately, I don't know Russian. Perhaps someone who does can relate the English construction to the Russian equivalent. –  Barrie England Jan 5 '12 at 10:58
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I think that I don't need that. Having studied the English language for some 8 years I do understand the usage of the past perfect. But as far as I've noticed, the longer you learn a foreign language, the more different grammatical structures make you hesitate.. The problem is that in very many cases even the most authoritative and precise grammar books don't provide you with absolutely clear explanations and examples of grammar usage. Probably the problem is that my command over the english language is still not so advanced as I used to think. –  Desert Jan 5 '12 at 11:03
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@Desert: It's pretty good if that last post is anything to go by! –  Barrie England Jan 5 '12 at 11:06

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