0

I am currently working with a grammar book designated for advanced English learners, and I have come across a strange usage of Past Perfect:

So, before the young man had had a chance to say anything John had given him an application form.

Since it is clear from the context that one activity had taken place before the other why does past perfect go with both verbs? To me it should go as follows:

So, before the young man had a chance to say anything John had given him an application form.

  • 1
    There is no reason to use past perfect in either verb here, since the order of events is completely clear (because of the word before). I'm wondering whether there is more context which would put the whole sentence before a different event and justify the use of past perfect. – Peter Shor Dec 24 '19 at 12:27
  • 2
    In fact, googling, I found that this is indeed the case. The whole sentence is in past perfect because it takes place before the sentence "After I’d finished teaching earlier that morning, I found John standing outside my classroom." – Peter Shor Dec 24 '19 at 12:37
  • 1
    ... Yes; there aren't separate constructions to flag that M followed L which followed K which followed .... Here, it's likely that John did his deed before the young man could do his, but something else has already been mentioned happening between both of these and now (it could even just be the general timeframe of the narrative). Your sentence is grammatical, but, as Peter says, wouldn't be sensible without prior context. But example sentences are usually merely given to explore grammaticality. / Peter has now added the licensing context. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 24 '19 at 12:40
  • Thank you guys! Your justification was very helpful. They just put this sentence in the book without any context. That's why it was confusing. – Batal96 Dec 24 '19 at 12:42
  • Does this answer your question? When do we use “had had” and “have had”? – Astralbee Dec 24 '19 at 13:38
1

In your proposed alternative, the remaining past perfect sounds wrong. If you’re going to remove the first, you have to adjust the second too, like so:

So, before the young man had a chance to say anything John gave him an application form.

The reason you might not want to do that is if the relationship of this sentence to a larger context required the past perfect. In that case, you have to put the whole sentence into the appropriate tenses for it to read right.

Nested tenses that orient the reader regarding time and order of actions need to be balanced, else they end up disorienting instead of orienting, much like nested parentheses must be balanced to make sense.

| improve this answer | |
0

Context is everything, resistance is futile:

That little word so indicates something happened before the two things mentioned in the sentence:

  1. The afternoon had been very hard as many candidates showed up. So, before the young man had had a chance to say anything John had given him an application form.

  2. The candidate spoke for five minutes without stopping. So, before the young man had had a chance to say anything John had given him an application form.

Without knowing what precedes the "so", I would eschew calling it in favor of the simple past. The answer is that it depends on the broader context. A broader context, called a co-text by some linguists.

One can easily imagine that the two activities with the past perfect precede the action in the simple past of the first sentence. Why not? It's perfectly possible.

Naturally, in another context, one can also write:

The young man was late and before he had a chance to say anything John had given him an application form.

The takeaway is this: context can come in a preceding sentence and is not always at the level of a single sentence.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.