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This is a sentence I read:

The engines that had stopped half an hour ago were in action again.

In my opinion, ago in the above sentence is used incorrectly. It should be replaced by before or earlier:

The engines that had stopped half an hour before were in action again.
The engines that had stopped half an hour earlier were in action again.

I think ago can only used in the past tense rather than past perfect tense. Here is a correct sentence, making the correct use of ago as follows:

The engines that stopped half an hour ago are in action again.

Is this thinking correct?

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    I find "ago" to be "uncomfortable" in such scenarios. I'd likely use "earlier". – Hot Licks Oct 28 '14 at 15:21
  • @HotLicks depends on the context. In the narrative of a novel, it can heighten the reader's sense of connection to the protagonist, helping them share the character's experience rather than just read a report of it. – itsbruce Oct 29 '14 at 9:58
  • @itsbruce - Yeah, in fiction the writer's "voice" is important, and often will outweigh issues of clarity or smoothness of word flow. – Hot Licks Oct 29 '14 at 11:30
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I think you are in error. "Ago" means "counting back from now", but in a narrative, now is the time being described. So

He went back to the engine room. The engines that had stopped half an hour ago were in action again.

is just valid as

I go back to the engine room. The engines that stopped half an hour ago are in action again.

In both cases, "ago" is accurately describing the relative interval between the current narrative time and the previous time. "In the past" relative to the contextual time.

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How come you have the opinion that "ago" can't be used with past perfect tense?

See Collins dictionary ago. They have examples with past perfect + ago.

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/ago

The example from Collins is not the best as it is indirect speech. Better examples from http://sentence.yourdictionary.com/ago

Only a few minutes ago she had flaunted death.

Long ago she had learned to ignore the second glances, open stares, and sometimes even suggestive leers of men.

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Ago – at a certain time before, counting back from the present

The engines that had stopped half an hour ago (implying at a certain time -half an hour- before) were in action again.

Before – at some unknown time before now.

The engines that had stopped before (unknown time) were in action again.

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I agree with both itsbruce and rogermue, and would like to add something more.

Using before in such a context, seems to be a bit "unfluent", since there is no mention about which event, "before" refers to. It should be along the lines of:

The engines that had stopped half an hour before (event) were in action again.

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“half an hour ago” VS “half an hour before”

  • half an hour ago = half an hour before NOW.
  • half an hour ago = half an hour before THEN (before a past time)

A reference from Michael Swan's Oxford Basic English usage (p29) :

Oxford English Usage

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