So I asked a question that I knew I had asked a long time ago and actually made me think...

"Am I the only one whose program went back to how it previously was or not?"

The aforementioned quotation was my question and I started thinking if it should be "how it previously had been" since there are two actions in the sentence. One of which, "went back to", preceding the other one, meaning one action comes before the other, so perhaps should have put the past perfect tense to use?

1 Answer 1


There is not much difference in either expression.

The subtle difference is this:

‘was’ - the system went back to how it ‘was’ - has more of the sense of how the system ‘was’ - ‘in a single moment of time’. For example ‘the system went back to how it was last Wednesday at 3pm’.

‘had been’ - the system went back to ‘how it had been’ - for a continuous length of time - for example “the system went back to ‘how it had been’ in ‘Release 3.1’ - which had been active and installed from April 2016 until July 2018.”

  • The question was whether past perfect would be better than the simple past, which you didn't explicity answer. For the reasons suggested by the OP, the past perfect is more appropriate, but to the extent both are acceptable, I disagree they differ in the way you describe. In both your examples, either tense could be used. You seem to be conflating perfect tenses with continuous tenses in how they differ from simple tenses. Also, the unique aspect of present perfect is lost in the past perfect, which is used for any action prior to another action in the past.
    – Yeltommo
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 15:49

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