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The mom had prepared some food for her son before he left.

The mom had prepared some food for her son before he was going to leave.

The mon had prepared some food for her son before leaving.

Do these three have the same meaning? (the son left?)

I think the first one "before he left" means "before he (would) left" because "leaving" happened after "having prepared", but we can't use "would" in the sentence.

And I think in this sentence:

That girl who had meetings the next day would eat some food first. ("had meetings" should mean "who would have meetings")

But in this sentence we can't say if the girl attended the meeting. (Maybe after dinner, she slept overtime. So how can we define?)

Thanks a lot!

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Your sentences have three different meanings

before he left

means the son left, and before that the mother prepared some food

before he was going to leave

means the son was planning on leaving at a certain time and before that the mother prepared some food, however we do not know if the son actually did leave, he may have been delayed

before leaving

means the mother prepared food before the mother left.

In your second example, you are correct

That girl who had meetings the next day

we do not know if she attended the meetings, only that the meetings were scheduled.

  • Thanks so much for your kind help!!! But I don't know why if I say "before leaving" means someone left finally. In the first sentence, before he left should have the same meaning with " before he (would ) leave" right? Because "leaving " happened after "having prepared" , and in this way why it is different with the second example? – moyeea Oct 2 '16 at 20:55
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These sentences all have various problems that you introduced by using various tenses. Also, it's not usual to say "the mom", but instead user her name or explain her relation to the subject of the paragraph/story, i.e. "Mrs. Raccoon", "the son's mom", "his mom" etc.

[Mrs. Raccoon] had prepared some food for her son before he left.

When you say she "had prepared", it requires that some other significant action happens afterward; however, here, nothing happens. "Before he left" is an adverbial phrase that only tells us when the action happened, and doesn't really justify the past perfect tense. Instead it's better to stick to the simple past, "Mrs. Raccoon prepared some food for her son before he left (for school)."

Mrs. Raccoon had prepared some food for her son before he was going to leave.

Again, "had prepared" is not justified, but on top of that, "before he was going to leave" is odd here, possibly because it represents a potential future action, and the mother's action (preparing food) is definite. So there's a weird mix of verb tenses that don't agree with each other. Instead, if you really have to, you could say something like, "Mrs. Raccoon would prepare food for her son before he would leave (for school)," or better, "Mrs. Raccoon would prepare food for her son before he left (for school)," or even, "Mrs. Raccoon was going to prepare food for her son before he left (for school), (but then Mrs. Fox came calling and she completely forgot)."

Mrs. Raccoon had prepared some food for her son before leaving.

This one is actually better than the others, although here it's Mrs. Raccoon who is doing the leaving. "Leaving" by itself isn't wrong but still feels incomplete, "Mrs Raccoon had prepared some food for her son before leaving (to go visit Mrs. Fox)."

That girl who had meetings the next day would eat some food first.

This seems needlessly complicated. A simpler sentence would be, "If she had meetings the next day, she would first eat something."

I understand that you might want to use a certain grammar ("the [subject] [defined by some condition] would do [some action]"), but while it's not necessarily incorrect it can be hard to understand. The problem in this case is that the adjectival clause doesn't just define who we are talking about, it also explains the reason for the action. It's better to group together the action and the reason, so their relationship is clear, "That girl would eat some food before she went to her meetings," or, "That girl would eat something before she would go to any of her meetings."

There's also some confusion about time. When did she eat? Now, or before her meetings the following day? A (relative) future plan has to use some kind of future tense, otherwise it sounds odd. "She had meetings the following day, so she planned to eat something before attending them."

  • Thanks so much!!!But normally we can't use "would" in " before+clause", right? But just one more question:" It would take him 6 months before he got recovered" Can we know finally he got recovered or not? – moyeea Oct 3 '16 at 16:07
  • Normally I wouldn't use "would" in a before clause, but only because it adds an odd time/hypothetical value to a sentence that you can probably say in a simple way. Also keep in mind that "would" has many other uses, so it's easy to get them confused. "It would be six months before he recovered" is fine, but it indicates something that happened in the past and is now complete (he has recovered). But you might want to ask this as a separate question, since I'm not clear on why it works. – Andrew Oct 3 '16 at 16:13
  • Sorry, I'm sorry for not giving the context:" The doctor examined the patient. At that time it would be six months before he recovered." why can we know he got recovered or not? Maybe things went worse. – moyeea Oct 3 '16 at 16:57
  • Yes, as I said "would" has lots of uses. In this case we don't know what happened, but from the context we can assume he didn't recover in six months -- maybe more, maybe surprisingly less. – Andrew Oct 3 '16 at 17:36

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