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What is the difference between using the simple past in two parts of the sentence and using the past simple in one part and the past perfect in the other part. For example:

"As soon as the light started changing, the birds went silent"

What does that exactly mean? Why did not we say:

"As soon as the light had started changing, the birds went silent"

In the following sentence, which one is correct: ate or had eaten>\?

When I came home, my wife and my sister ate dinner.
When I came home, my wife and my sister had eaten dinner.

  • You are mistaken here. There is no past perfect and simple past in that first sentence. Here is what there is: started is simple past. went is simple past. The verb to start (commence, end, finish, begin etc.) take ING. I start talking. I startED talking. Both verbs are simple past. In the second sentence: When I came home [at a point in the past], my wife and sister had eaten [before that point in the past]. Those verbs are: simple past and past perfect. The action of coming home comes AFTER the action of eating dinner. – Lambie Feb 27 '17 at 18:42
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In your second example, "had eaten" is correct.

Your first example is a special case.

Past perfect is used when an action happens before some time in the past. For example, you came home in the past, and your wife had eaten dinner before you came home.

In your first example, "as soon as" means two actions happened at the same time, not one before the other, so we wouldn't use past perfect.

Correct:

As soon as I went outside, it started raining. (It started raining at the same time I went outside.)

As soon as I got home, my wife ate dinner. (My wife ate dinner at the same time I got home.)

As soon as the light changed, the birds went silent. (The birds stopped making noise at the same time the light changed.)

Also correct:

When the light changed, the birds had already gone silent. (The birds went silent before the light changed.)

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