By definition, past perfect simple tense "expresses an action taking place before a certain time in the past".

I have a hard time to understand why Terry Pratchett used it in the sentence:

"The scythe that had done the work leaned against the gnarled bole of a pear tree."

Can I kindly ask for an explanation? I can't see any reason for it because no exact information about certain time in the past is given.

Thank you in advance.

  • Not by definition rather it is one usage. Another usage is some point in the past. The past perfect (the scythe had done the work) included in the sentence is defined by before some other event occured in this case (the scythe now leaned ) that limited its occurrence. Commented May 21, 2018 at 3:35
  • @user2617804 Thank you. Anyway, I am going to mark the sooner answer.
    – tucna
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 6:34

1 Answer 1


Try inserting the word "now" in the second half of the sentence:

The scythe that had done the work [now] leaned against the tree.

Those are two different actions being described, taking place at two different points in the past.

  1. First (earlier), the scythe did some work.

  2. THEN (later) it leaned against the tree, like so.

  • 1
    Thank you very much for the clear explanation. It did not come to my mind at all.
    – tucna
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 6:43
  • 1
    What has "now" got to do with all this?
    – Kris
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 7:00
  • @Kris I must say that it helped me to understand the time relations there. If you have another explanation, I would be happy to see it!
    – tucna
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 8:07
  • @Kris: It helps one focus on the narrator's P.O.V.
    – Ricky
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 9:02

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