I'm having trouble establishing a sequence of events in the following sentences (italicized) and understanding why the past perfect is needed.

"Once upon a time, when I was a child reading fairy tales, I’d ached to have my own adventures. Not that I’d wanted to be some dippy heroine languishing in a tower, awaiting rescue. No, I’d wanted to be the knight, charging into battle against overwhelming odds, or the plucky country lass who gets taken on as an apprentice to a great wizard. As I got older, I’d found out the hard way that adventures are rarely anything like the books say. Half the time you are scared out of your mind, and the rest you’re bored and your feet hurt. I was beginning to believe that maybe I wasn’t the adventurous type." —Claimed by Shadow by Karen Chance

In the first sentence, a specific time when the author was a child is written in the past simple, and the second verb (past perfect) tells us that the aching happened before her childhood? Why not use the past simple in both cases since they both seem to logically occur at the same time?

In the second sentence, the order is very similar. The author got older in a specific time in the past, and had found out before her getting older. Again, both seem to happen simultaneously, so why not use the same verb tense?

  • 1
    I agree; I see no reason for any of those perfects. Narrative pasts are fine. Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 19:12
  • @StoneyB Me too. It wouldn't have occurred to me to use anything other than the simple past. I think the passage suffers from this mismatch of tenses, especially with the abbreviation I'd. The latter does not seem to accord with the quite formal register in which the rest of it is written.
    – WS2
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 19:43

1 Answer 1


I think your reasoning is sound.

Reading the original text quickly doesn't trigger any flags for me, but upon further reflection, the mismatched verb tense is really obvious.

An alternative for the first sentence could be the conditional perfect:

Once upon a time...I would have ached to...

However, there's nothing wrong with:

Once upon a time...I ached to...

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