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I learned that you can use Past simple even if something happened before the statement in the past if you are talking about specific time (such as year, month etc.). But is it possible to say something like: "The whole process was so energetic as it was never before"? Or you can say only "The whole process was so energetic as it had never been before"? Also, why do you use past perfect in the following sentence "Unfortunately, he commenced speaking before all the guests had finished eating"? Can you say "Unfortunately, he commenced speaking before all the guests finished eating"?

I know that perfect tenses are used when the action is complete, but I feel that you can say either way in the above sentence.

Thank you in advance.

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Both sentences use "had", but in different contexts.

For your first sentence, you should draw a comparison. Were the events before ever energetic? Or was this event the most energetic of them all?

The whole process was energetic; as it had never been before. (only energetic event)

The whole process was so energetic, more than it had ever been before. (most of all)

For your second sentence, you should use "had". During the event, the guests were eating. While they were eating, someone started to speak. They were eating in the present, but interrupted.

Unfortunately, he commenced speaking before all the guests had finished eating.

If he picked the right time to speak, there is a different tense.

Once the guests finished eating, he commenced speaking.

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