Which one is correct? (Or both of them are?)

I did not understand until you had explained.
I had not understood until you explained.


We did not disturb him until he had finished his job.
We had not disturbed him until he finished his job.

  • It all depends what you want to emphasize on. This could be useful: english.stackexchange.com/questions/53731/…
    – Maulik V
    Dec 6, 2013 at 9:04
  • @MaulikV Thanks for the link. But if I understand that page correctly, it doesn't imply that I can say any of them depending on what I want to emphasize. Dec 6, 2013 at 9:10
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    And from that page, "But as far as I've noticed, the longer you learn a foreign language, the more different grammatical structures make you hesitate..." Exactly what I'm feeling right now. Dec 6, 2013 at 9:12
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    May I modestly suggest you take a look at the Canonical Post on perfects? This does not specifically address your question, but it does explain, particularly in §§3.2 and 4, that the meaning and purpose of a perfect construction are not inherent but determined by context. Dec 6, 2013 at 14:33
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    All of the sentences you present are grammatically acceptable, but perfect constructions derive their meaning from the context in which they are used. Without further context there is no evident reason why a perfect should be employed at all, rather than saying simply "I did not understand until you explained" or "We did not disturb him until he finished". Dec 6, 2013 at 17:54

1 Answer 1


Well, to be perfectly honest, they're all grammatical in that there are no syntactic or semantic issues involved.

With that said, when you're using until it's usually the preceding clause that uses the perfect construction, particularly because until is being used synonymously with before. So to me, I prefer the second sentence in each example.

For example:

I didn't understand until before you explained.

I hadn't understood until you explained.

We didn't disturb him until before he finished his job.

We hadn't disturbed him until he finished his job.

The past perfect typically indicates that the action occurred before another action, so it's used for whichever action occurred first, With these, it would depend on your perspective; but from a first person perspective, the second is correct.

  • The fact that you said "it's the second sentence in each example that is properly constructed" bothers me a little. Because that's exactly my first choice, and I just read from a grammar book (before I posted this question) that, in their words, "present perfect and past perfect can emphasis the idea of completion", with a few examples including "I waited until the rain had stopped", which I think can map exactly to my example sentences. So I expected the answer might be like native speakers would choose the first sentences as their first choice, and then... Dec 7, 2013 at 4:56
  • ... discuss if the second sentences (which are my first choices) are possible. Is there something special with the use of "until" and past perfect? Dec 7, 2013 at 4:57
  • @DamkerngT. Usually, the past perfect is sequential in nature. You use it to signal that an event occurred before another event. In that example, I wouldn't use the past perfect for rain, I'd use it for myself because I am the subject. But, this, to me, is an incomplete thought, and that had stopped suggests to me that it's followed by a before. I think the example in the book is something like I waited until the rain had stopped before I walked to the park. And if I had written it, it'd be more like I'd waited until the rain had stopped before I walked to the park*. Dec 7, 2013 at 16:54
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    There is absolutely no need to use past perfect in these constructions. (You can if you want to, but it's more cumbersome, so I wouldn't unless I had a reason to.) We did not disturb him until (before) he finished his job is perfectly grammatical. Dec 7, 2013 at 16:59
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    @DamkerngT. in the sentences above, which I've just updated to make them less cumbersome, until means before. I only changed it to before to make it more clear to you contextually, Dec 7, 2013 at 17:09

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