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Analyze these sentences:

He had told me that before I went into the store

He told me that before I went into the store.

Does the past perfect had told in the first sentence become unecessary considering that I have a subordinate clause "before I went... that already implies that something else happened before another action (in this case, the independent clause "He told me.." happened before the subordinate clause).

So, what is the point in using the past perfect there since the function of the past perfect is to express something that happened before another past action?

Is it unecessary?

  • It all depends on what you want to say. This is not a grammar question here. Is the temporal sequence relevant to what you want to say? Or not? – Lambie Feb 5 '18 at 16:34
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You are correct and there is no difference in meaning between the two tenses. In this context the past perfect is not necessary -- however, it can add a subtle nuance that emphasizes the point that some event happened before some other event, similar to the use of "did" in this context:

He had told me that before I went into the store (but I wasn't paying attention).

He did tell me that before I went into the store (but I wasn't paying attention).

Even when it is unnecessary, it doesn't hurt to properly use the past perfect. In some cases it can make your words sound more precise and fluent.

Yes, we had seen that movie before, but even though it wasn't that good our friend really wanted to go so we saw it again with her.

You could say, "Yes, we saw that movie before ..." but why waste a good opportunity to use the past perfect in its proper context?

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