Once again I don't get the difference in 2 sentences from my grammar book:

  1. The noise of their footsteps had become distant before my father spoke again.
  2. He walked quite close to them before he spoke.

Why in these 2 identical (in my point of view) sentences we use different times.
And one more question on this theme:

"He had been hanging/ had hung for a while before he had any recognition at all."

Which tense is right and why?

  • I thought you had learned a few days ago, when you asked a similar question (ell.stackexchange.com/questions/142935/past-perfect-with-when/…) that it is not a question of "which one is right?" but rather the idea the speaker wishes to convey. You wrote: "So both are grammatically correct and the question is only up the meaning that author wants to convey."
    – TimR
    Oct 1, 2017 at 16:19

2 Answers 2


One usage of the Past Perfect tense is to describe one action that happened (and perfected/completed) before another action in the past.

  • Your first sentence implemented this usage. It emphasizes that the noise had faded away and as a listener/reader, I can infer that if the noise hadn't become distant, the father would not have talked.

  • Your second one, on the other hand, simply represents a chain of events: He walked there. He smiled. Then he spoke. The amazing thing is that when you apply Past Perfect tense here, it also works! But in that case, his action of walking close to them is a bit focused.

In spoken language, you will tend to notice these differences a lot. It adds the tones to the voice, conveying the speaker's attitude or implication. Consider a kid telling a story to her friends:

  1. I woke up this morning. I brushed my teeth. After that, I walked downstairs and I was told to brush my teeth by my mother.
  2. This morning, my mother was so annoying. I had brushed my teeth before she yelled at me and told me to brush my teeth again, without asking any question!

Imagine the kid focuses strongly on every word had, and brushed, (also, my teeth). However, this is just for fun. To be honest, I would use "After" for the above sentence as it sounds more natural but our question is about "Before".

And given that sentence alone, I can say the only option is to use had been hanging (passive voice). The verb hang usually requires a preposition or an object, which this sentence does not have.

He had been hanging for a while before he had any recognition at all.


+1 to Lam Le for his answer, yet I will add a few remarks and see if I can get your head to spin around till you're dizzy, @Koss M. Dizzyness is the first stage of enlightenment.

Although it is difficult to identify the point at which a moving object becomes distant or close to some other reference point, the semantic states do indeed exist.

They can be states attained, or they can be states something is in irrespective of its having attained the state. In other words, we can make a statement about getting into the state or about being in the state.

Let's look at two sentences and substitute another state, warm.

The beer had become quite warm before he drank it.

The beer was quite warm before he drank it.

The second sentence only supplies the fact that the beer was warm prior to his drinking it. The first sentence refers to the fact that it had not always been at that temperature. It had become warm.

Thus, the sentence with had become distant supplies a different kind of information than walked quite close. We don't know that he had been less close to them beforehand, at least not from the grammar of the sentence using the simple past. We might infer it, but on what grounds?

  • Dear Onamort, thanks 🙏 you a lot! You give me a big sense of understanding ) Maybe you and Lam Le can give your explanations ( to compare it with my perceptions) in my another examples that I have given here: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/143630/…
    – Koss M
    Oct 4, 2017 at 8:39

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