I'm not sure about what sentence is right (and a little explanation why if it's not too much to ask would be nice):

1) Everybody was irritated when they were told they wouldn't be paid.
2) Everybody was irritated when they had been told they wouldn't be paid.
  • Hey, Kann, thanks, you are right, 'irate' suits better in this situation. I'm glad I've joined the community here, it's so helpful. Mar 23, 2020 at 6:06

1 Answer 1


Either sentence could be right, depending on the meaning you're trying to convey. "Were" refers to a past continuous sense, i.e. the "when" is "at the same time that they were told." "Had been" refers to a past perfect sense, i.e. the "when" is "after the telling had been done." Was everyone irritated during the telling (1), or only after the telling (2)?

  • Oh, I see, so, by your logic, in the first case everybody already was in the irritated state when they were being told they were not going to be paid and in the second case everybody became irritated after they had been told about it (and probably because of it), right? Mar 23, 2020 at 5:59
  • 1
    Pretty much. In the first case, people were irritated simultaneously to the telling--as they were being told. It doesn't necessarily mean they were irritated before they were told, but it does mean they were irritated while the telling was happening. Hope that helps! Mar 24, 2020 at 8:53

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