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I struggle to understand how to use correctly some tense.

Talking about a past situation, which of these is correct?

1a) I had left the lights on, in case he had woken up.

or

1b) I had left the lights on, in case he woke up.

Another example. Say I explain a situation, I start in the present, but then want to talk about something that happened yesterday, should I say:

2a) "He is sleeping with his lights on. Two days ago, he had woken up at midnight and had been scared to death."

or should I say:

2b) "He is sleeping with his lights on. Two days ago, he woke up at midnight and was scared to death."

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The past perfect is generally only used when one event in the past occurs before another. This helps the reader to understand which one came first. And in fact, if the order of events is clear without using the past perfect, there is no grammatical requirement to use the past perfect.

In the sentence 2a there are two uses of the past perfect, one before the other. The only possible rationale for doing this would be if the next sentence, or the previous sentence, discusses a time period before the present but after he woke up. Without this intermediate time frame, you should use 2b.

In 2a, there are only two times: the present and the past. You should not use the past perfect. Sentence 2b is correct.

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When we are talking about a completed action in the past, we use - the past simple tense. For example - I woke up early yesterday or he bought a new car. When we are talking about an action which happened before another action in the past, we use - the past perfect tense.For example - When I came home, she had already been there or I went to the store to buy some groceries but it had already been closed.

As to your first sentence, I would say - I left the lights on, in case he/she wakes up.

As for the second one - if we want to that he is sleeping with the lights on, it would indicate that he is sleeping while we are talking, he is sleeping now, at the time of speaking. But, If we want to point out his habitual behavior, then we ought to use - the present simple. He sleeps with his lights on. Two days ago, he woke in the middle of the night, scared to death.

  • The present simple, "He sleeps with the lights on," describes a habitual action. If he's only been doing it for two days, this doesn't feel long enough to me for it to be habitual. It would be much more natural to use the present continuous: "He is sleeping with the lights on. Two days ago, he woke up at midnight, scared to death." And "is sleeping" doesn't actually mean that he's doing it right now at this moment; in this sentence, you can use it for something he's been doing for the last two days, even if he's awake right now. – Peter Shor Nov 29 '18 at 13:02

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