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I have read these idioms:

" Beat someone to the punch/Beat someone to the draw".

I know their meaning, but I am confused about the grammatical usage.

Here are two examples from freedictionary.

  • I wanted to have the new car, but Sally beat me to the punch.

  • I planned to write a book about using the new software program, but someone else beat me to the draw

Now my question is that wouldn't it be had beaten according to meaning of already completed action before past tense, i.e. wanted and planned.

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    The past simple is the idiomatic choice here. You can look as it as simultaneous desires, with a punctive event within them. // Note that 'I planned to write ...' may also be rendered 'I was planning to write ...'. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 1 '17 at 17:42
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    Your instincts are right for the grammar, but the idiom beat you to the punch. If it's the grammar or the expression, the idiom wins. – Yosef Baskin Feb 1 '17 at 19:26
  • Just to follow up on Edwin Ashworth's comment, I note that the simple past forms "but Sally beat me to the punch" and "but someone else beat me to the punch" work grammatically as well as idiomatically if you preface them with "I had wanted to have the new car" and "I had planned to write a book about using the new software program." – Sven Yargs Apr 4 '17 at 6:15
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    Has nothing to do with being an idiom. "I wanted to have the first drink, but Sally beat me to the punch bowl." "Beat" means "won the race" – Hot Licks Jun 1 '17 at 22:18
  • If you say "had beaten me" that would imply that your defeat occurred even before you felt the "want". – Hot Licks Aug 31 '17 at 3:29
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The grammar of idioms is looser than normal speech. It is one of the characteristics that makes a phrase an idiom.

So, grammatically, "... but Sally had beaten me to the punch" is correct. Your desire to have that car will not be fulfilled. Sally's act intervened, and she got it first.

Idiomatically, though, "... but Sally beat me to the punch" is normative. We sort of identify with those five words as a set, and are used to hearing them together. It would not be incorrect to use the best grammatical tense, but few of us bother.

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    Not to mention the simple fact that use of the pluperfect tends to be declining, in favor of the simple past in many cases. – Barmar Feb 1 '17 at 21:19
  • Has nothing to do with "beat me to the punch" being an idiom. Would be exactly the same if it were "beat me in tennis". – Hot Licks Jun 1 '17 at 22:19

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