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This is a grammar question about the Past Perfect and the Past Simple.

The road was muddy, as it ( _____ ) the day before.

  1. rained
  2. had rained

Which is correct, or both are acceptable?

My grammar book says it has to be had rained, but I think both options are acceptable. Can I use either, or is option 2 the only correct answer?

  • Please provide more information. Which grammar book? Does it provide an explanation? – Sydney Jan 26 '17 at 6:59
  • This is one of the question, where we need to chose the answer from four options, so it gives me just a sentence. – 祐一浅野 Jan 26 '17 at 7:37
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    Mostly, because it sounds better to me, but also because "had rained" is referring to a point before "was" and so, when referring to the past in relation to another past event, I would use past perfect. I see user178049's answer below, but to me, using past perfect would be more easily understood sooner than using simple past because the tense itself would indicate to me the sequence of events. I would not have to use a time marker to understand and infer. – Teacher KSHuang Jan 26 '17 at 8:04
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    But keep in mind that this is just between you and me. As I tell all the students I tutor, if you find that something I say and something your teacher says contradict each other, go with what your teacher says because your teacher is the one who gives you the grade. Then you can decide for yourself how you want to do it outside of that teacher's classroom. – Teacher KSHuang Jan 26 '17 at 8:06
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    You mentioned in your comment that there are four options in the grammar book (its English title should be included in the question), but you have only included two. What does the "grammar book" say about the Past Perfect, can you include a summary? This will help us, and future visitors understand why you are feeling confused. – Mari-Lou A Jan 26 '17 at 9:04
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The road was muddy, as it had rained the day before.

Instinctively, I would prefer option 1. But it seems the canonical post cited by user 170849, and written by Stoney.B suggests that either option is acceptable.

4. How and when should I use the perfect?

... For instance, many learners are under the impression that because a past perfect is often used to speak of one event being prior to another, it should be used whenever you do so. Now it is true that there are circumstances when you must employ the past perfect:

  • OK At the time his first play was produced, Shaw had already established a substantial literary reputation.

But what ‘requires’ the past perfect there and forbids a simple past is not the time sequence but the adverbials at the time his first play was produced and already, [emphasis mine] which both locate the later endpoint of the Event Time timeframe at Reference Time. Without those adverbials it is quite possible to express the same time sequence in a sentence which permits either a simple past or a past perfect:

  • OKShaw had established a substantial literary reputation before his first play was produced.
    OR
  • OK Shaw established a substantial literary reputation before his first play was produced.

In terms of literal meaning, these two sentences amount to the same thing.

So the content of the sentence is not a reliable guide to whether or not it wants to be expressed as a perfect construction or something else. [...]

This is why I am so fond of an answer here on ELL which I have christened FumbleFingers‘ Perfect Truism. (FumbleFingers speaks specifically of the past perfect, but the principle may be generalized).

☛ “Don’t use the perfect unless you need it.”

What governs the use of the perfect is not the content, the meaning it expresses, but the purpose it serves [emphasis mine]. If you want to know whether to use a perfect, look at what you are trying to accomplish. What really distinguishes the perfect from the deictic constructions is focus: are you talking about state of affairs current at Reference Time or are you talking about the prior eventuality which in some sense gave rise to the current state of affairs? [emphasis mine]

N.B. Where the original is not in bold, I have stated as [emphasis mine]

In the OP's example; the event (rain) specifically occurred prior to an occurrence (a muddy road). The road was muddy due to a rainfall that happened and ended at a very specific point in time: the day before. Some might name the phrase in bold an adverbial phrase or an adjunct, regardless, this phrase/adjunct unequivocally establishes the sequence of events, and in a narrative setting, the Past Perfect is preferable in this instance (especially under English exam conditions!).

  • Dear anonymous downvoter, I see you have switched sites. If you are the same user, as I suspect you to be, you are seeking out "old" answers of mine on this site to downvote. Bravo. Very smart thinking. By the way, I very recently earned back the +50 downvotes (yes, 50) my EL&U account had received. – Mari-Lou A Mar 3 '17 at 9:39
  • And yesterday I discovered that the user's EL&U account has been suspended for a year for voting irregularities. The very same could happen on their ELL account and netwide, i.e. all their SE accounts, and that suspension could be stretched to two or more years. – Mari-Lou A Mar 9 '17 at 8:10
  • What happened Mari-Lou A? (This question has shown up on the active question tab.) Hope you are not suspecting me O_o – user178049 May 22 '17 at 12:46
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Yes, both are acceptable but I prefer simple past(rained). The rule is that

  • Past perfect is not needed if the sequence of the actions is clear.

In your sentence

The road was muddy, as it (rained) the day before.

The sequence of the actions is clear(marked by before), so you dont need the perfect construction to mark which action starts first and which action takes place.

Another thing that allows simple past is that the sequence of the action can be inferred without a time marker or perfect tense. It doesn't make sense to say that the road was muddy before it rained.

EDIT: More about perfect tense is here

  • Could you say that it is grammatically correct, or language changes as time passes? Because books rarely say wrong. – 祐一浅野 Jan 26 '17 at 8:01
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    @祐一浅野 Because some books oversimplify the rules. The rule is that Don't use past perfect unless you really have to – user178049 Jan 26 '17 at 8:05
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    But your tip is not oversimplifying? And "how" is a learner to recognise when PP is really needed, unless they have understood it in the first place? The Past Perfect tense is not so difficult to master, once you know the Past Simple, it is more often than not used in written narrative. – Mari-Lou A Jan 26 '17 at 8:58
  • @Mari-LouA I only wrote one of the rules that's related to the question. I think it's too hard to explain them all here. – user178049 Jan 26 '17 at 9:08
  • Sorry, I was actually referring to the bolded rule you stated in your comment :) – Mari-Lou A Jan 26 '17 at 9:13

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