I know when Past perfect, and when two past verbs are used in a sentence. according to what I have read, when two actions or events have taken place in rapid succession, we use two verbs in the past tense, as in:

After he mailed his letter, he bought some stamps.

now the main question is: is there any difference between the two sentences below?:

1.By the time I got to her place, she had gone.

2.By the time I got to her place, she was gone.

I know that there is already an answer to this in here.

however, all of the users have answered before the asker's editing (when it was a completely different question). And I also want to see if there's a relation to time in here or not. (have the two actions taken place in rapid succession in the 2nd example or not?)

  • It only depends on what you (I cannot stress that enough) want to say. Do you want a past action to precede another in the past or not?? That is the question to ask yourself.
    – Lambie
    Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 19:22
  • 4
    Possible duplicate of "I was gone" vs "I had gone" Barrie England addresses this question. Commented Apr 21, 2018 at 20:59
  • 2
    I saw Barrie England's answer in the older question and... it's disappointing. It's just a one-liner without any supporting evidence.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 0:03

2 Answers 2


First, there is a difference between the state of being gone (she was gone) and an action completed in the past (she had gone). To see the difference, just add a destination:

By the time I got to her place, she had gone to the office.
*By the time I got to her place, she was gone to the office.

Second, there is no stopwatch on the past perfect-past simple contrast. She could have exited the back door mere seconds before you arrived, i.e., faster than the time between mailing a letter and buying stamps.

The difference is that at the post office, the time difference is not topical. After he did this, he did that. The sequence is logical and utterly unremarkable. At your friend’s apartment, however, the unknown interval between her departure and your arrival, i.e., the sequence of these two events, is the main topic of the sentence.

The past perfect is also often used when the event further in the past is not topical but the second event is:

After he had mailed his letter, he suddenly remembered the commemorative stamps he was supposed to buy for his nephew’s collection.

  • Less bright readers among us like me might need it to be explicitly stated that the sentence using was, without adding a destination, is grammatical. Commented Apr 22, 2018 at 2:07

In an expressive sense ‘she had gone’ is merely factual. Whereas ‘she was gone’ carries a sense of empty space - which no longer includes - her.

Here’s an example of how that might be used creatively or poetically in writing, which will hopefully show you the subtle difference:

  • He walked back up to the student cafeteria but found that she had gone. He thought ‘Oh well - it’s probably time for her next class’ - and went home.

‘Had’ being from the verb ‘to have’ relates more to physical existence. Her physical or bodily presence.

  • He ran out to the car park - but all he saw was the whisp of smoke from a rapidly disappearing exhaust pipe - she was gone!

Because ‘was’, being from the verb ‘to be’ is a word that conveys a sense of ‘being’, it carries more of a sense of the feeling of the spirit of the person that was present. So we might more emotionally miss that, when gone. We feel the ‘empty space’ of the carpark - devoid of the spirit of that person that we know.

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