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The following is taken from a website. In the context below why the second part, "had signed", is in past perfect?

... The case was scheduled to be tried before the justice of the peace in the back room of the general store. The attorney for the railroad immediately cornered the rancher and tried to get him to settle out of court. The lawyer did his best selling job, and finally the rancher agreed to take half of what he was asking.

After the rancher had signed the release and took the check, the young lawyer couldn't resist gloating a little over his success, telling the rancher, "You know, I hate to tell you this, old man, but I put one over on you in there..."

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2 Answers 2

The Past Perfect is used to show that the action of signing had been completed before the next action took place. In this particular example, however, I would find it better if the next verb, took, were in the same form, since both actions were completed before the next one, i.e. the lawyer's gloating: After the rancher had signed the release and taken the check, the young lawyer...

The Simple Past in the same construct would not be wrong either, since the same meaning is conveyed with the use of after: After the rancher signed the release and took the check, the young lawyer couldn't resist gloating a little over his success,...

It is a matter of whether you want to emphasise the fact that the first actions had been completed.

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The whole story is set in the past, before the time it’s being told. Various things happened: the attorney cornered the rancher, the lawyer did his best selling job, the rancher came to a compromise. After all that, the lawyer spoke to the rancher. The significance of the timing is that whatever the lawyer said, it was too late for the rancher to do anything about it. The past perfect construction emphasises the point that the rancher agreed to take half of what he was asking before the lawyer revealed what seems to have been his duplicity. The writer could have used the past tense signed instead, but the past perfect construction shows how the lawyer was careful to make sure the rancher did what he wanted him to do first.

I agree with Irene that consistency really requires taken.

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So putting it in simple past would give the action a signal of not making sure or less likely from happening? –  user17857 Feb 5 '12 at 9:36
    
@Mohammad: the past tense would give less emphasis to the fact that the taking of the cheque occurred before the lawyer spoke. –  Barrie England Feb 5 '12 at 10:44
    
So if I say: "When I was in England, I had learned English" would mean that the learning took place before I left England? What would it mean if I change this statement to simple past? –  user17857 Feb 5 '12 at 11:32
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@Mohammad: If learning English happened before arriving in England, it would be more usual to say something like 'By the time I got to England I'd already learnt English.' If you say 'When I was in England, I learnt English' it means you learnt English WHILE you were in England and not before. –  Barrie England Feb 5 '12 at 12:53
    
What does my statement "When I was in England, I had learned English" mean? –  user17857 Feb 7 '12 at 0:48

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