Good afternoon! I have a question about using these two tense forms, which I've written above. There is a sentence:

[B4] "Back in the days before the car was/had been invented, the only personal means of transport were the horse and the bicycle. The first cars got their power from steam and gas..."

What is the difference between "was" and "had been" in this sentence? Which one to use?enter image description here

  • 2
    Both "was" and "had been" work fine in this sentence. The fact that some test asks you to choose which is "correct", only shows that the people who wrote the test only think they know English.
    – Andrew
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 13:08
  • I agree with @Andrew, both "was invented" and "had been invented" sound fine, and have the same meaning (in this example).
    – Joe Malt
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 13:14
  • I agree witg Andrew and Joe that both are possible. I don't kniw why but I'd go with was invented. There's no need for Past Perfect here. Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 14:00
  • @A.Smith The question isn't whether there is a logical difference between them. The question is which is correct in the given context. Both are correct, the difference is whether you want to add a slight extra emphasis on the relationship between two actions. If your teacher thinks we are wrong, then she can come here and post her opinion, and we can discuss.
    – Andrew
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 14:37
  • I think this test was probably set by a non-native speaker (or at least, a poorly-educated one). I've never heard anyone refer to "the car" as having been invented - it's been a long drawn-out process of refinement. There are many different types of automobiles - steam, electric, and gasoline - as well as countless styles. Which one would count as "the first real car"? Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 14:50

1 Answer 1


Assume for the moment that "the car" (automobile) was invented at an identifiable time. The word "before" in the test question renders the past perfect tense ("had been invented") unnecessary and verbose.

The short answer is that either "was invented" or "had been invented" is good enough, but "was invented" is possibly better, because of its brevity.

Also for brevity, I would strike "Back in the days," saying, "Before the car was invented, the only personal means of transportation were the horse and the bicycle."

An example of a sentence in which the past perfect is necessary is, "When roller skates were first produced, the automobile had not been invented."

  • The word 'car' dates from around 1300. It means "wheeled vehicle." Before the automobile, there were other modes of personal transportation besides horses and bicycles. For example, roller skates were invented in the mid 1700's.

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