Consider the following sentence:

They arrived before we had left.

How do I use "did" and avoid using "had" in the above sentence?

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  • Is this a homework question? The easiest way would probably be to say, They did arrive before we left, but normally you'd only do that to add emphasis, e.g. following a conversation in which you (or they) had expressed doubt about it. – Will Crawford Feb 1 '18 at 14:55
  • Why would you want to? – FumbleFingers Feb 1 '18 at 14:55
  • @WillCrawford it is a homework question that I gave to myself. I'm learning English by myself and is still on the basics. Apart from your answer, is there any other way to rephrase the sentence without altering the meaning and the time relationship between the events? Without using "had", of course. – Todo Pertin Feb 1 '18 at 15:03
  • @FumbleFingers I just wanted to know if "had" was irreplaceable. – Todo Pertin Feb 1 '18 at 15:05
  • 1
    It would just about be possible to contrive a context where They arrived before we did leave could be "natural". You might want to stress the fact that we did actually leave - in a context where some preceding utterance implied that either we'd expected to leave long before they arrived, or that we hadn't originally intended to leave at all. But that's a very unusual scenario. You should just assume that "do-support" isn't appropriate for your context. – FumbleFingers Feb 1 '18 at 15:06

There are a few ways to avoid had, not all requiring a did:

  • They did arrive before we left
  • They arrived before we left *[you don't really need the had to begin with]
  • ... before we could leave [but that could imply you didn't leave]
  • ... before we were able to leave

    EDIT to clarify.

    The had left isn't necessary because you're not trying to say that the leaving had already happened before some other time.

    In fact it makes more sense to use it on the other side of the statement, i.e. They had arrived, before we left. If you reorder that I might make it easier to understand: By the time we left, they had arrived.

    Putting had in there implies already: They had already arrived, before we left. Whereas it makes little sense to say They arrived before we had already left.

Changing the sentence order a bit:

  • Before we left, they arrived
  • Before we could leave, they arrived

Other ways to stress that you did leave, but personally I'd put the had in these:

  • We did leave, but only after they arrived
  • We did leave after they arrived

Also please bear in mind that do and did are implied in most active verbs. We tend to use the did [something] form only when:

  • answering a question, or responding to an accusation
  • emphasising it in comparison to something else we did not do

I won't add any more examples here, you should be able to find plenty online or in whichever grammar books you have available.

  • "They arrived before we left"? Is that grammatically correct? Why do we need to have "had" in past perfect sentences like my example sentence then? – Todo Pertin Feb 1 '18 at 15:27
  • In this case either form gets the message across: the one even came before the other (and the They did arrive before ... form emphasises it). The reason it doesn't matter is that the had left tense is for referring to something before another point in time, and would be more appropriate for the arrival than the departure i.e. They had arrived before we left. – Will Crawford Feb 1 '18 at 15:36
  • Uh, no, the reason has nothing to do with arrivals or departures, but that in sequencing past events, the past perfect isn't necessary when the sequence is clear and the intervening time is of no topical value. – KarlG Feb 1 '18 at 15:41
  • @WillCrawford Thank you so much. I hadn't thought of "They had arrived before we left." – Todo Pertin Feb 1 '18 at 15:42
  • @KarlG that's really what I am saying - the had left part is also about sequencing, and is redundant in the “after” part of another before-and-after comparison. – Will Crawford Feb 1 '18 at 15:44

The past perfect is formed by had + past participle. The auxiliary verb had cannot change, but the past participle can be in simple or progressive form:

We had already waited for an hour when the news came.

we had been waiting for an hour when the news came.

There is, however, no past participle in the emphatic ("do") form. The only option is simple past:

We didn't wait long before the news came.

  • Great approach to answering my question. Especially, "There is, however, no past participle in the emphatic ('do') form" was quite helpful. – Todo Pertin Feb 1 '18 at 15:36

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