Why is the past perfect used in these cases? This is from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Winston had seen O'Brien about twelve times in almost as many years. Years ago he had dreamed about O'Brien. He was in a dark room and O'Brien had said to him, We shall meet in the place where there is no dark. Winston didn't know what that meant, but he was sure it would happen, one day.

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    You must be omitting informing context, such as a preceding sentence 'Winston sat beside the fire in his favourite armchair, drinking a Hot Gin and Tonic, and considered his relationship with O'Brien.' This licenses/requires the past perfect next. Commented May 23, 2020 at 13:56
  • The first sentence is simply the past version of the present perfect Winston has seen O'Brien about twelve times in almost as many years [as of now]. Maybe Winston will see him again. In the next two sentences, the past simple would suffice; there's no reason to deploy the perfect. When that happens, suspect British English, which frequently uses the perfect where the simple will do. Ah, yes, George Orwell. Commented May 23, 2020 at 14:43

2 Answers 2


In the previous paragraph of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston noticed O'Brien sitting near the girl (Julia) during the Two Minutes Hate.

This paragraph then describes things that had happened before that event or that Winston had previously dreamed about. So the tense used is not just the narrative past (or preterite) of the previous paragraph, but a tense showing an even earlier time than the event in the story. In English such a tense is often the past perfect or pluperfect.


The last sentence is referring to a situation in past time. The perfect in the preceding sentences makes clear that all this happened previous to the the past time situation referred to in the last sentence. The description of the dream is a bit off as it doesn't use the perfect for the first clause, but does for the second. In narrating the events of that dream, there should be no perfects unless referring to events in that dream previous to those being recounted - it seems like O'Brian's saying something to him took place before he was in a dark room.

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