Would you use past perfect in following sentence or would you rather go with other tense?

It had been here before we came.

  • You should add more context to what you want to say. It is possible to use either "It had been here ... " or "It was here ..." but there's a difference in nuance.
    – Andrew
    Sep 28, 2016 at 18:16
  • I would just like to point out that some kind of product, had already been here before I actually got to that place where the product is. Is that right? Sep 28, 2016 at 18:20
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    No new answer is required, unless FumbleFingers' Perfect Truism can be improved upon: Don't use the perfect unless you have to. Sep 28, 2016 at 19:10
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    @P. E. Dant: I've voted to reopen. I don't endorse the earlier answer (or the one here, though I wasn't the one who downvoted it), and I'm not convinced they're duplicates because I can't explain why I think Past Perfect is effectively required in It was 8:30. My brother had arrived 3 hours before, whereas it's at best "credible" in It had been here before we came. But I seem to have a very strong preference for Simple Past in this later example, and nothing said so far sheds any light on why that might be so. Sep 29, 2016 at 12:06
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    @FumbleFingers Oh no! Please don't wade in. Next we'll be honing in and getting untracked. Sep 29, 2016 at 17:23

2 Answers 2


From the additional detail in the comments this is a question of when to use the simple past and when to use the past perfect:

"It had been here before we came."

"It was here before we came."

As with many languages, in English the "perfect" verb forms imply a temporal relationship, for example something that was true then, but may not be true now, or that it occurred before some other significant and related event. In this case, if you say, "It had been here ..." you imply that something happened to it when or after "we came".

"It had been here for many years before we came and took it away."

"It had been here for many years before we came, but when we touched it, it unexpectedly came alive!"

As P.E. Dant suggests in his comment, a good rule is not to use the perfect unless there's a specific need for it. In this case, since you just want to say "some kind of product had already been here before I actually got to that place where the product is" the simple past should be sufficient.


In commentary, this question was expanded to:

and why not past perfect?

One might similarly ask "and why not past perfect continuous?"

"It had been being here before we came."

This expresses a state of existence identical to that expressed in It was here before we came and in It had been here before we came, and just as there is no rule of grammar which prohibits its use, there is none which requires it. There can be context in conversation or literature which requires its use (or the use of the past perfect) to make meaning clear, but we have nothing here upon which to rely. Without context, this is an instance in which the perfect is just unnecessary.

My theory (and I don't claim that I originated it, or that it is supportable, only that I subscribe to it) is that in English, as in most languages, popular usage tends to simplify rather than to complicate: that given a choice between a complex and a simple verb form, our ear prefers the simple. I have nothing to support this theory, and it may be in any case only an exemplar of Argumentum Ad Ignorantium.

As opposed to this intuitive reading, a more scholarly and well-formed discursion which may have some bearing on this phenomenon can be found in FumbleFingers' Perfect Truism.

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