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I am in an English course, in Cambridge School, in Lisbon, Portugal, and I am learning Past Perfect.

I am also in a Pastry course, and today we had our first English lesson. The teacher wrote some vocabulary in the board, and we had to make sentences with the vocabulary.

I suggested this sentence:

Before I baked the cake, I had already mixed it.

But, she told me that this sentence was wrong. I explained to her that I was taking an English course in Cambridge, my Cambridge teacher is Scottish, and she taught the Past Perfect this way.

I am confused now, I don't know who is right. The Pastry teacher said that the right way is:

Before he bakes the cake, he had already mixed it.

-Or-

Before he had baked the cake, he had already mixed it."

Can somebody help me please?

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    Some clarification needed. If your teacher said "before he baked" should be changed to "before he bakes", it means she wants to change the past tense into the present tense. But that might not be for grammar reasons. It might be she thinks that if you're describing a process, as in a set of baking instructions, you should use the present tense. "First you mix the ingredients, then you place the mixture in a baking-tin..." That might be what she meant. Maybe we need a bit more context. – Terpsichore Apr 2 '14 at 17:00
  • My teacher changed it for "before he bakes" because in portuguese doesn't sounds good "before he baked". We were doing na exercise, that she told us to do. She told to make sentences with pastery vocabulary, with any verb tense that we want,so I made this sentence. She knew that I was not describing any process – Cheila Apr 2 '14 at 17:12
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    Well, I don't know about Portuguese, but purely in terms of English grammar there is nothing wrong with your version: "Before I baked the cake, I had already mixed it". – Terpsichore Apr 2 '14 at 17:44
  • If you translate it to portuguese, "Before he baked the cake" is wrong, is wrong. To make sense should be "he had baked", that's why my Pastery teacher said that was wrong, because of the translation to portuguese. But like I said, in Cambridge I learnt this way, using Past S. and Past P. or Past P. and Past S., according with the sentence. I will ask my Cambridge teacher tomorrow but with your help I am more sure of what I said. Thanks a lot! :D – Cheila Apr 2 '14 at 21:23
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    You're welcome. It might also be worth making the point to your teacher that English grammar was not developed in order to make sense when translated into some other language. It only has to make sense in English. – Terpsichore Apr 2 '14 at 21:43
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Most native speakers would avoid the past perfect here in favor of the simple past.

Before I baked the cake, I mixed it.

The use of the past perfect is acceptably grammatical, though.

It helps to denote a sequence of events:

Before I baked the cake, I had mixed it.

But, because you used before it is not necessary to use the past perfect to do so.

See this sentence where the past perfect functions without an adverb.

I baked the cake I had mixed.

Now, we are using the past perfect to denote the sequence of events.

I baked the cake I mixed.

This sentence wouldn't likely confuse a native speaker, but my inner grammar says it's wrong.

Before he bakes the cake he had mixed it.

This is blatantly wrong. We would NEVER use the past perfect in this way.

Before he bakes the cake he mixes it.

This is the simple present tense.

I hope this helps.

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Past Perfect shouldn't be used alone in the sentence. My teacher explained me that it is a 'tense-grandfather' which is only used to mark the past action that occurred before another past action. Basing on this knowledge, I can say that your sentence is grammatically correct:

Before I baked the cake, I had already mixed it.

  • What a great analogy: past simple=father; past perfect=grandfather. :) – Mari-Lou A Apr 8 '14 at 17:21
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The idiomatic version in English is I mixed the cake before baking it. Creating two clauses sounds very much the product of a grammar exercise.

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The example does not make sense to me, though changing the object might correct it.

One bakes a cake, baked a cake, has baked a cake, or even had baked a cake, though the last sounds strange out of context.

However, in any context, one does not mix a cake. One follows a recipe, mixing ingredients into batter and then baking them, resulting in a cake. There is no cake until it is baked. Even if one starts with "cake mix" that only requires the addition of water, the best one can achieve before baking is batter.

Reading mixed a cake or had mixed a cake is confusing to me, a native English speaker. I can only imagine what it might do to someone learning the language. Terpsichore's observation that "English grammar was not developed in order to make sense when translated into some other language. It only has to make sense in English." is accurate. I would add that using an incomplete/improper example and then translating it is bound to lead to even more confusion.

Am I reading too much into this?

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Past perfect should always be in the past.

To clarify: "Before I baked the cake, I had already mixed it." - is correct but not idiomatic. "Before he bakes the cake, he had already mixed it" - is technically correct but not at all idiomatic. It would be more idiomatic to say: "Before he bakes the cake he has already mixed it" "Before he had backed the cake, he had already mixed it" - is again technically correct but not at all idiomatic.

The sub-clauses themselves do not need to have the same tense but it is idiomatic for them to be in the same tense.

So, in conclusion, none of them are technically wrong but your initial answer is the preferred method.

Hope this helps.

  • Yes it helps because the pastery teacher said that I was wrong saying "Before I baked the cake, I had already mixed it." My Cambridge teacher is Scotish so I suppose she knows better the English grammar, than a Portuguese person teaching English (my pastery teacher) and she teached this way to all her students. – Cheila Apr 2 '14 at 16:32
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    I don't understand what you mean by "is correct but not idiomatic." The way Chelia wrote it seems both correct and idiomatic (fluent) English. – Bradd Szonye Apr 2 '14 at 19:55
  • If you translate it to portuguese, "Before he baked the cake" is wrong, is wrong. To make sense should be "he had baked", that's why my Pastery teacher said that was wrong, because of the translation to portuguese. But like I said, in Cambridge I learnt this way, using Past S. and Past P. or Past P. and Past S., according with the sentence. I will ask my Cambridge teacher tomorrow but with your help I am more sure of what I said. Thanks a lot! :D – Cheila Apr 2 '14 at 21:25

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