Simple past and past perfect are so confusing...

Please tell me if any of the sentences below make (or makes?) sense:

1) She had already opened the package before I had the chance to tell her not to.

2) She had already opened the package before I could tell her not to.

3) Before I could tell her not to, she just went ahead and opened the package.

4) (I wrote this in my question below) I was worried that I might have sounded stupid.

Are simple past and past perfect interchangeable?

marked as duplicate by tchrist, MetaEd, aedia λ, Mitch, Kristina Lopez Mar 14 '13 at 18:00

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  • Possible nTuplicate. – Kris Mar 14 '13 at 5:32
  • Many uses of them are interchangeable, something which seems to confound ESL students, who often have formed the impression that there is only one right tense choice for every sentence. Many other uses of them are not interchangeable. – Peter Shor Mar 14 '13 at 13:25

Each of your sentences makes sense. And no, simple past and past perfect are not interchangeable. If they were interchangeable, there would be no need to have both.

What I can't quite understand is how any of your sentences supposedly illustrates any choice or contrast between the two tenses. There is no case here in which you show an example of a sentence rendered in the simple past, and then alternatively rendered in the past perfect.

  • I'm so sorry, I was just trying to see if the sentences above made any sense at all, because I wasn't so sure if I was using the verb tenses correctly. Do you know why Vishal (his answer disappeared all of a sudden) said none of my sentences are correct, though? – Pato Mar 14 '13 at 4:17
  • As far as I can tell, he said they weren't correct because he might have assumed you were trying to give contrasting examples, when in fact you didn't. I can't think of any other basis for him to say that. I actually wrote a comment to him asking what he meant, but I assume the answer and my comment were deleted, possibly because he realized he was off the mark. – John M. Landsberg Mar 14 '13 at 4:20
  • Oh, what a relief... I was starting to worry if my English was THAT bad... I have one more question. Do sentences 1-3 basically mean the same thing when I'm talking to a friend about the opening of the package, which happened a couple of days ago? – Pato Mar 14 '13 at 4:28
  • 1 and 2 are functionally almost identical, and 3 is another way of saying it. So without going into details of subtle differentiations, I would simply say yes, they do mean basically the same thing. – John M. Landsberg Mar 14 '13 at 5:04

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