Which of the sentences below are grammatically correct?

  1. The couple had been engaged for five years when they married.
  2. The couple had been engaged for five years when they were married.
  3. The couple had been engaged for five years when they had married.

Only (1) sounds correct to me, but I am unable to explain why (2) and (3) are grammatically wrong.

  • 1
    @simchona- Was the question closed because there were too many items in it? I am just trying to understand if my sentences are grammatically correct, and I didn't mean to post an off topic one.
    – Alex
    Dec 27, 2012 at 20:19
  • sorry, I meant to left a comment. Each of your questions should have its own post, and also make sure you emphasize your thoughts on each(like "I think this tense should have been used because...") so it doesn't sound like proofreading.
    – simchona
    Dec 27, 2012 at 20:24
  • 1
    @simchona- I updated my question based on your comment. Could you please re-open it if you feel the question is valid? thanks!
    – Alex
    Dec 27, 2012 at 20:37
  • 1
    I prefer The two were engaged for five years before they were married.
    – Jim
    Dec 28, 2012 at 5:38

3 Answers 3


The first two are grammatical. In the first, married is the past tense of marry, and is here used intransitively.

In the second, they were married is a passive construction, and married is the past participle of marry. Although it is passive, the agent is not mentioned, but we can reasonably assume that they were married by a priest, or by a government official.

The third is ungrammatical because the past perfect construction describes a past event that precedes another. It is clear in this case that the wedding took place only after they had been engaged, and not before.


I also prefer sentence 1. The use of the past perfect continuous in the first section refers to a situation that was true for a period of time prior to some other event; the use of the simple past in the second section provides the other event as expected.

The use of "were married" in the second half of sentence two may be interpreted as simple past (passive) by people who believe that a priest does the marrying, and the couple just stands there and lets it happen to them, so it may pass muster for some. However, the phrase when they were married can also be interpreted as "During the time period in which they were married", which leaves one wondering why they were both engaged and married at the same time.

Using "had married" (past perfect) to describe an event that happened after another event is wrong; past perfect is for events that precede another event.

  • I see no continuous constructions in any of the sentences. Dec 27, 2012 at 20:57
  • You are quite right, sir. I should have (and now have) said "past progressive".
    – Hellion
    Dec 27, 2012 at 21:06
  • Progressive is another term for continuous. Such constructions are made by combininng the -ing form of the main verb with an appropriate form of the verb be. For example, They married is in the past tense, but They were marrying is a past continuous (or progressive) construction. Dec 27, 2012 at 21:18
  • What form then is "they were married", as in "they existed in a state of marriage" (as opposed to "a marriage event happened to them")?
    – Hellion
    Dec 27, 2012 at 21:20
  • In that case, married is an adjective, acting as the subject predicative, or complement, of were. Dec 27, 2012 at 21:25

I, too, feel married in these forms of sentences work like adjectives. Also, I am interested may be another example. They look like passive forms, but their intransitive character supports my opinion that they are adjectives.

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