I guess it's about simple past vs. past perfect usage but some examples are welcomed, I'm really not sure if I understand it correctly.

EDIT: Right, probably I should be more specific. The thing is currently I'm reading one (american) book where, of course, a narration style dominates. And yet, the main protagonist often changes a tense from "I was" to "I had been" and I simply can't figure out the rule.

closed as general reference by Kris, tchrist, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者, Kristina Lopez, Robusto Apr 3 '13 at 1:29

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To me, "had been" implies a change of state:

  • The phone rang. I was asleep. (No implication of state change. Further sentences would clarify if the speaker woke up, or never heard it.)
  • The phone rang. I had been asleep. (But I after it rang, I wasn't asleep any more.)

The past perfect, or pluperfect, is used to introduce a past event that took place before another past event:

I had worked as a bricklayer for five years before I was promoted.

To indicate that an event took place in the past without relating it to another event, you would use the simple past tense.

I worked as a bricklayer for five years.


+1 to Joe McMahon. Allow me to don my technical writing hat. Using "weak" grammar is one of my pet peeves!

Don't use past and future tense out of context, when making a statement. Using direct words makes a strong, clear statement. The following examples have no punctuation, to emphasize grammar. The first of the paired sentences is weak and milk-toast -- the second is the Chuck Norris version.

  • I just wanted to ask if you could correct your spelling.
  • I want you to correct your spelling.

This sentence sounds awkward:

  • I had been walking when I was asked for spare change.
  • I was walking when asked for spare change.

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