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In a recent question: Past perfect or past simple in combination with present perfect? the asker presented three options.

  1. I have examined the document you gave me and...
  2. I have examined the document you had given me and...
  3. I have examined the document you have given me and...

All the answers suggested the asker to pick #1, with optionally choosing #3, which are fair enough, but what at least three people including me are interested in is: "Why not #2?"

The document was given before the examination took place and both took place in the past, so the formal requirements for past perfect seem to be satisfied. So what other reasons either make it undesired here, or make the two others more desired? If I have choices similar to the above, when should I choose past perfect and when other tenses are more preferable?

(just as a comment, in my native language (Polish), our counterpart of Past Perfect went extinct sometime around the past century and only leads a zombie life through rare idiomatic expressions, so I find it a fascinating subject for study.)

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Except in special circumstances, the default usage is #1. The other two are possible, as Barrie said, but only in special circumstances. Context determines what should be used, and without specific contexts, it's not possible to know whether #2 or #3 would be more appropriate than #1. It's always possible to contrive contexts, so that's not interesting to me. –  user21497 Nov 27 '12 at 11:47

1 Answer 1

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I have examined is a present perfect construction, and so it describes the speaker’s state now. Any reference to a preceding event is expressed with another present perfect construction or with the past tense. A preceding event would normally be expressed with the past perfect construction only when the current event is itself moved to the past, as in I examined the document you had given me.

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Yes, but as Bill says in his comment above, #1 is the default usage. It's clear from logic that the giving of the document precedes its reading by the speaker; we don't have more than two tenses for sequencing (eg, perfect, pluperfect, *plu-pluperfect ...) and tend to use the simplest forms that will not confuse. Again as Bill says, context may demand that we use the pluperfect for clarity, or the perfect for emphasis, say. –  Edwin Ashworth Nov 27 '12 at 12:12

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