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I am not sure about using the past tenses here:

Yesterday I saw my friend who had just finished the university and wanted to go out.

Is that correct? I am not sure about the past perfect but using past simple would (IMO) imply that the actions happened one by one.

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3 Answers 3

The tenses are fine, but other aspects of the sentence are not. Finished university suggests coming to the end of an entire university course, but that is not what I imagine is intended here. You need to change the sentence to read something like Yesterday I saw my friend who had just finished his/her university classes for the day and wanted to go out.

If the friend really had come to the end of the course, it would be enough to say Yesterday I saw my friend who had just finished university and wanted to go out, omitting the definite article. However, it might be clearer to say Yesterday I saw my friend who had just finished his/her university course and wanted to go out.

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The tenses are good, because you want to say that your friend finished BEFORE you saw him/her; so the past perfect creates the right sequence. I, however, would have written

Yesterday I saw my friend who had just finished at university and wanted to go out.

because "finished university" implies that they have completed their course of study; and "finished the university" sounds like an act of terrorism.

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Also with no preposition would be fine, where 'University" is then referred to as the general institution. –  Karl Jul 3 '12 at 5:46
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The use of the Past Perfect is appropriate in your example.

But because it's inside a Relative Clause and with the Adverb "just," it doesn't really make much of a difference if you switched to Past Simple, because the context is perfectly clear.

Ex. Yesterday I saw my friend who JUST FINISHED university and...

Ex. Yesterday I saw my friend who FINISHED university and... (more general meaning of "finish university," not recent)

If you really want to see and pinpoint the difference between using Past Simple and Past Perfect, you could try something with no Relative Clause and with a more dynamic Verb:

Ex. Yesterday, I saw my friend. He HAD WALKED OUT OF the school gates and...

--while--

Ex. Yesterday, I saw my friend. He WALKED OUT OF the school gates and...

Like what you said, the Past Simple in the second example can make the story a series of actions and make the whole meaning awkward.

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That "wanna" is odious. –  jwpat7 Jul 2 '12 at 12:34
    
You're right, jwpat7. I shouldn't mix formal and informal –  Cool Elf Jul 2 '12 at 12:37
    
Your point about the Past Simple being just as acceptable might fly in AmE but it would seem quite out of place in BrE. –  Karl Jul 3 '12 at 5:48
    
Hi Karl. Yeah, the Have P.P. is preferred by the British with "just," "already," and "yet." Is it true for the Had P.P. as well? –  Cool Elf Jul 3 '12 at 11:00
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