When do I use had and when can I leave out had? or use was instead of had

This is the context it was used in:

With the Reds and the Germans knocking seven shades of shit each other back at Museum Island, I'd bought myself some time. I headed for Opernplats, where Schwaiger was being held. I'd been sent to kill him, but now I was trying to save his ass. Funny how some days turn out

Words in bold are the ones I don't understand.

  • Can't I use ''I bought myself some time'' instead of ''I'd''...

  • Or use: ''I was sent to kill him'', instead of I'd been...


  • 1
    The past perfect/pluperfect (had + past participle) denotes a past action completed before another past action. Since you had bought yourself some time and had been sent to kill him before the events described, the pluperfect is the correct form.
    – Anonym
    Apr 19, 2015 at 20:23
  • "I'd" simply means "I had" (or, in a few cases, determined by context, "I would"). "I had bought myself some time" means that my actions prior to this instant had deferred some hazard. "I had been sent to kill him" means that at some prior time I was sent here with orders to kill him (though apparently that is no longer my intent).
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 19, 2015 at 23:25
  • As to your two bullets, "I bought myself some time" implies that you were doing that at the time you speak of, rather than at some prior instant in time. "I was sent to kill him", though, is roughly equivalent to the original, since "was" implies at some prior time.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 19, 2015 at 23:30

1 Answer 1


This previous question bears a similarity to yours and might prove useful:

"Was vs had been"

One of the more helpful answers given in that thread was by Tucker:

Had/has/have been is usually used for something that was done in the past and still applies (multiple events).

Was/were usually applies to something done in the past that no longer applies (single event).


  1. The well had been producing clean water.
  2. The well was producing clean water.

The first sentence implies that the well still is producing water, but it's no longer clean for some reason.

The second sentence implies that the well is no longer producing water.

Of course, context is very important. Here's another example:

  1. I had been running.
  2. I was running.

The first sentence implies that 'I' had, at some point of time, run. It could have been earlier in the day, or even the night before.

The second sentence implies that 'I' have just finished running a little while ago.

As you can see, context is heavily implicated. How long is a while?


  1. I had been running to get fit.
  2. I was running to get fit.

The two now emphasize two different things. The first implies that perhaps 'I' originally ran for health benefits, but continue to do so for other reasons. The second implies that at one point they ran to get healthier, but a strong implication that they have stopped.

(answered Apr 19 '14 at 23:02 by Tucker)

  • Please do not post whole answers from previous threads. Close-vote if you are able. Apr 28, 2015 at 23:19
  • What the hell does "close-vote" mean?
    – CitizenTom
    May 8, 2015 at 23:05
  • Read the advice at the help center. May 18, 2015 at 21:57

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