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OK, we all know that “The Past Perfect expresses the idea that something occurred before another action in the past.” Source

Example 1.

Mary had studied English before she moved to New York.

had studied happened before moved.

Now, we also have conditional sentence Type 3 which expresses “Things that didn't happen in the past” using the following structure:

If + Past Perfect + Subject + would have + Past Participle

Example 2:

If Mary had studied English before, she would have passed the exam
(in fact, in reality, Mary didn't study English and thus she didn't pass the exam).

Now, in example 1, we got Past Perfect and in example 2 we also got Past Perfect. The question is that how we control the tenses in this following example:

If Mary had studied English after she moved to New York, she would have passed the exam

If saying like that then the “Mary had studied English after she moved to New York” breaks the Past Perfect rule because we should say “Mary studied English after she had moved to New York”.

But if we say

If Mary studied English after she had moved to New York, she would have passed the exam

then we will break the conditional structure
If + Past Perfect + Subject + would have + past participle

I'm not sure if we have to say like this:

If Mary had studied English after she had moved to New York, she would have passed the exam

  • How does a native English speaker express this idea?

  • Do tenses in conditional sentences have a conflict with the general verb tenses in a sentence?

  • These are two different uses of the past perfect tense, and the conditions that apply to one use don't apply to the other use. There is nothing wrong with "If Mary had studied English after she moved to New York, she would have passed the exam" – Peter Shor May 20 '16 at 12:31
  • Will "Mary had studied English after she moved to New York" break the past perfect law? – Tom May 20 '16 at 12:34
  • Do you mean as its own sentence? I would need to see the context. – Peter Shor May 20 '16 at 12:37
  • @PeterShor, Yes, in its own sentence. Context: Now is 2016. She moved to NY in 2012, then she studied English in 2013. – Tom May 20 '16 at 12:44
  • By context, I meant the surrounding sentences. And we really shouldn't answer new questions in comments ... you should ask a new question. – Peter Shor May 20 '16 at 13:05
2

These are two different uses of the past perfect tense, and the conditions that apply to one use don't apply to the other use. There is nothing wrong with

If Mary had studied English after she moved to New York, she would have passed the exam,

and to me it sounds better than either of your alternatives.

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