I have a bit of confusion regarding the use of past perfect tense. I read it in a grammar book that we use past perfect tense when we are describing an action before an action in the past. I read the following sentence in a grammar book, and I am confused whether it is correct or not.

1. After her father died, she moved to her grandfather's town.

In addition, I want to know whether we use perfect tense after that clause or not.

closed as too broad by FumbleFingers, Jim, anongoodnurse, user140086, Nathaniel Jan 1 '16 at 20:33

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  • If you don't need to use Past Perfect, don't. For you specific example very few people would say After her father had died... unless we postulate a rather unusual context where she was actually waiting for her father to die so she could move. In which case PP might be credible because it underlines a [chronological] progression - which is unnecessary in this case since that's covered by the word later, so we might be led to infer some other kind of "progression" in consequence (perhaps she couldn't move until he died). – FumbleFingers Dec 31 '15 at 17:51

Your grammar book is oversimplifying. We use the past perfect when we are referring to an event at an earlier time than the point we are focussing on in our narrative. The choice never (or hardly ever) affects how the hearer interprets the sequence of events, but only affects how the speaker relates the events to the point in time that we are focussing on.


After her father died, she moved to her grandfather's town.


After her father died, she had moved to her grandfather's town.

are both fully grammatical, both fully idiomatic, and can both be used to refer to exactly the same series of events. The only difference is that in the second one, there is a "viewpoint" time that is before now but after her moving - perhaps the text will go on to describe events that happened at that viewpoint time.

If you are asking about using the past perfect in the after clause,

After her father had died, she moved to her grandfather's town.


After her father had died, she had moved to her grandfather's town.

are both grammatical, but I would say less usual. To me, they imply that the viewpoint in the past is in her mind, rather than a general one.

  • That means we can use either way to describe an action in the past. This is one of the confusing points in my mind regarding the use of past tense. I always get confused whenever I use simple past tense and past perfect tense. – Umer Malik Dec 31 '15 at 20:22
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    That is correct. Many uses of aspect in any language (properties such as perfect, continuous, iterative) give information about how the speaker is regarding or choosing to refer to the events, not about how the events actually occurred. – Colin Fine Dec 31 '15 at 22:14

Your sentence is an example of the simple perfect. The past perfect would describe what happened before "her father died." For example:

She had been living [past perfect] in her father's town when her father died [simple past]. After her father died [simple past], she moved [simple past] to her grandfather's town. Then she moved [simple past] to a different town. Then she moved [simple past] somewhere else. Now she lives [present tense] in Detroit. Her life has been [present perfect continuous] on the downhill since her father died.

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