Put the verb into the correct form, past perfect (had broken) or past simple (broke):

Sorry I'm late. The car ....... down on my way here.

According to the book, the correct answer is 'broke' (past simple).

I agree, but perhaps I repaired my car on my way to a place and that might be the reason why I am late. Could past perfect be used in this context?

  • 1
    In general, avoid using the perfect tenses unless there's a good reason. In this sentence there's no relationship between two events, so broke makes the most sense. You'd only use had broken if you wanted to suggest it happened before some other significant event ... but even then it's hard to think of a good example. Broke works in almost every situation.
    – Andrew
    Aug 26, 2017 at 16:16

1 Answer 1


The perfect is a 'relative tense', and to use a past perfect you must establish a past context—a 'Reference Time'— to which it is related.

noI'm late because my car had broken down. —This doesn't work because the context is present: "I am late".

okI'm late because I had to stop on the way: my car had broken down. —This works because past-tense had to establishes a past context.

  • Can't past perfect be relative to an implicit past context?
    – Karolini
    Aug 26, 2017 at 17:08
  • 2
    Yes; but your discourse establishes a present RT, which must be explicitly shifted to license a past perfect. Aug 26, 2017 at 17:18

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