I don't get the difference , why in first example we use past simple, and in the second past perfect. " He decided to get a present for his children before he left Rome" " He began apologizing before I had paid the driver "

3 Answers 3


As you have been learning from your similar questions, the perfect tenses present an action as one that has been completed.

One action's completed state can serve as a relative point of reference against which other actions are situated in time. Other time-phrases (e.g. "before", "after" and so forth) can serve much the same purpose.

Time-phrases can work in tandem with the perfect tenses, in which case they corroborate each other. But if the time phrases alone are clear enough in context, speakers will often use the simple past: the idea is readily understood without the temporal information supplied by the perfect.

He decided to get a present for his children before he left simple past Rome.

He began apologizing before I had paid past perfect the driver.

In the first sentence above, the time-word before clearly is sufficient to present the simple idea that his decision to buy a present occurred earlier than his departure from Rome.

In the second sentence above, the idea is not as simple. Notice that the sentence is trying to situate one action-in-progress relative to another not-yet-complete action. Let's look at the time-information supplied by the sentence:

He {began apologizing} {before} I {had paid} the driver.

The act of apology began and progressed BEFORE the driver had been paid.

Expressing this idea, which involves an action in progress in relation to a yet to be finished action, is a far more complex undertaking than expressing the simple fact that "one action happened earlier than another action", which we have in the first sentence about Rome. Situational nuances are being presented there: the person apologizing did not wait for the payment of the driver to be completed. We don't have the full context, but he is apparently so eager to apologize that his apology interrupts, or at the very least occurs during, the action of paying the driver.


When we talk about two activities we use the past perfect for the first activity and simple past for the second activity. Forexample: I had completed my home work before I went school. but some grammarians lik"Michael Swan say that past perfect is not necessary when the conjuctions before and after are used.

So the first sentence " He decided to get a present for hischildren before he left Rome" is correct

Similarly' He had decided to get a present for his children before he left Rome' is also correct

The second sentence is rather confusingi so if it is rephrased the meaning becomes clear

I think it should be rephrased as

"I had paid the driver before he began apologizing or I paid the driver before he began apologizing

I paid the driver is the first activity

He began apologizing is the second activity

Then the sentence means you (had)paid before he began apologizing

He began apologizing before you paid is possible if apology happened before the payment or

He had begun apologizing before I paid the driver means the same thing

your second sentence seems vague


the before term indicates an action that was done prior to a previously stated action. so he paid before the other person apologised, in such a time sequence we use past perfect for the action that occurred before in the past(both actions were done in the past butt quote not at the same moment back then)

  • Mariam, thank you , but as I understand this sentence it's contrary of what your said first action was he started apologizing and the second presumable action should have been payment to the driver ( we don't know from this this sentence did this even happen)
    – Koss M
    Oct 1, 2017 at 8:35
  • Mariam, where are you ?
    – Koss M
    Oct 1, 2017 at 21:45

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