My books says the following sentence is error free.

This is the boy who I think had won the gold medal in the dance competition.

But Is it really error free? We use past perfect when there are two actions but in the given sentence there is only one action i.e. he won the gold medal so shouldn't this be the correct sentence This is the boy who I think won the gold medal in the dance competition. ?

  • 1
    Both versions are grammatical; which you should use depends on the context. Without context it is impossible to judge whether a perfect construction is used properly. May 25, 2017 at 13:45
  • 1
    @StoneyB Don't we use had when we are talking about two actions ? Like The telephone rang after we had left the office.
    – user212388
    May 25, 2017 at 13:57
  • You may use the past perfect there, but you are not obliged to use the past perfect there. It depends on context. May 25, 2017 at 14:21

2 Answers 2


Past perfect doesn't necessarily have to refer to two actions, but rather can compare to an action (in the past) which is completed prior to some other (past) point in time which can be specified but also which can be implied. See:

past per·fect /ˈˌpast ˈpərfəkt/ adjective 1. (of a tense) denoting an action completed prior to some past point of time specified or implied, formed in English by had and the past participle, as in he had gone by then. - Google

Look at the example sentence above, "he had gone by then." - there is no specific other action in that sentence, but clearly one is implied.

That is why the sentence you give may be correct, because in context of surrounding sentences there may be another past event which is implied in this sentence, and the reason for using the past perfect form is to show that these events are being compared.


Both of your versions are correct. "Had won" gives idea of perfect aspect means completed / Finished action of winning gold medal in past. and second sentence "won" gives idea of status / information of winning gold medal.

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