Should I use the simple past or the past perfect when describing an antecedent to a past event? For example:

  • Laura passed her exam because she studied very hard
  • Laura passed her exam because she had studied very hard
  • Welcome to EL&U. This is not a proofreading service; we can help you work through specific matters of grammar or usage, but only if you identify them—what do you understand to be the difference between the two, and based on what? I strongly encourage you to take the site tour and review the help center for additional guidance. Our sister site for English Language Learners may also be of interest.
    – choster
    May 15, 2019 at 14:59
  • I probably would wouldn't mix the tenses: She passed because she studied. She had passed because she had studied.
    – Jim
    May 15, 2019 at 15:13
  • I don't see this as proofreading. There is a general principle here. May 17, 2019 at 20:43
  • Until this gets reopened: The passing of the exam is in the past, and the studying must have been completed before that past event, so the past perfect is right. May 17, 2019 at 20:47

3 Answers 3


I think either would be just as correct. However, as to which sounds more natural: To me at least, the latter form using past perfect (had studied) is clearer, because you're emphasizing that the studying occurred before the exam was passed.

From Wikipedia:

[Past perfect] is used to refer to an occurrence that at a past time had already been started.

So to emphasize that the studying had been done before the exam (which also occurred in the past), you can use past perfect.


In "Laura passed her exam because she studied very hard", "she studied" is past tense, so it means that at some point in the past, she studied.

In "Laura passed her exam because she had studied very hard", "she had studied" is past perfect tense, so it means that at some point in that past, she studied, but that she definitely had finished studying before the statement was made.


Both are entirely correct and natural sounding, but have VERY slightly different nuances, depending on context.

The second form may possibly be being used in a comparison with someone who didn't study as hard, or it may be being used in comparison with more recent times, for example.

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