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Could someone help me understand which tense (Simple Past or Past Perfect) would be more appropriate in the following examples, and why?

  • I knew I asked the right person.
  • I knew I had asked the right person.

Context: I asked somebody to help me with a task and now, several days later, I'm thanking them.

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  • @EdwinAshworth In that link, the OP claims the past perfect in one of the sentences is British English. That is simply bosh. I get so tired of some aspects of what people view as BrE and AmE.
    – Lambie
    Feb 13 at 21:13
  • @Lambie I largely reject the terms 'BrE' and 'AmE' as ill-defined. Along with 'standard English'; 'phrasal verb', 'non-count noun', 'intransitive verb' (you'll usually find at least the odd count / transitive usage). And we're still arguing over agreed definitions for 'sentence', 'word', 'complement', 'subordinate clause', 'preposition' .... Feb 13 at 23:36

2 Answers 2

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Tenses can sometimes get very tricky. This appears to be one such case. Attempting to bail you out of this 'tense morass'.

I knew I asked the right person.

Your knowing and asking are simultaneous actions.

I knew I had asked the right person.

This is what they call pluperfect in the English language.

Here two past events are involved: your knowing and your asking the right person.

In cases where two past actions are involved, one must precede the other (for otherwise we would need a different tense to describe the situation). Here your asking the right person precedes your knowing about it (maybe as an afterthought when everything went well).

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  • And yet "I knew I had asked" sounds overcorrect. I am pretty sure most people use "I knew I asked the right person", regardless of the anteriority of the asking...
    – fev
    Sep 7, 2022 at 9:07
  • @fev overcorrect? Sheesh! I never knew the word could be used as an adjective too. regardless of the anteriority of the asking? I don't think that's entirely correct.
    – user405662
    Sep 7, 2022 at 9:12
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    Despite my mistake, the meaning of my comment is clear. Thanks, wasn't aware "overcorrect" was only used as a verb. Must be my mother tongue that influenced me to use it that way.
    – fev
    Sep 7, 2022 at 9:20
  • This forum is where nitpicking is sorta allowed and perhaps even justified. Because ENGLISH ;)
    – user405662
    Sep 7, 2022 at 9:21
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    Definitely. That's why I appreciate this site, you always learn...
    – fev
    Sep 7, 2022 at 9:23
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What @user405662 said is technically correct, but in practice, it is more common to say

I knew I asked the right person.

For I knew I asked the right person Google finds around 45k results, compared to 20k for I knew I had asked the right person.

And I suppose this is because the stress of the sentence falls on KNEW as in the common exclamation

I knew it!

The purpose of the sentence is not to place the actions of the verbs in time, but to express the certainty of one's own good instinct.

I knew I had asked the right person is more often found not as an exclamation, but as part of an account of past events:

I knew I had asked the right person when Nick quickly grabbed my hand and said... (From the Mouths of Babes)

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