Last year I was walking in the park, brooding about what happened when Susan left six months earlier. We'd been arguing almost every day, and eventually she walked out.

If the story time is six month after she left, would it be possible to use past perfect for "happen" and "leave". If past perfect was not used , is it because the leaving is a single action so past simple is possible or because "earlier" indicates very clearly that the leaving is before the walking and the brooding or may be because of the past perfect continuous"had been arguing" that follows. The writer chooses to emphasize the cause but not the result the leaving

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    If past perfect was (or was not) used, this has no implications for the meaning. In principle all of happened, left, walked could be cast in PP (matching We'd been arguing = We had been...), but that would come across as ridiculously clumsy to native speakers. But none of them are contextually necessary, and it wouldn't make any difference even if that one contracted example had been given as We argued almost every day. Which I'd be quite likely to use, since it's pointless adding extra words that add nothing to the meaning, and aren't required in normal contexts. Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 17:23
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    I think the accepted answer to this question also answers your question fairly well: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/76343/…. Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 17:26
  • A minute or so earlier, the wolf had been watching there is a past perfect continuous to indicate that it takes place before the walk. In both examples we are looking backwards but one has a past simple and one a past simple.
    – Yves Lefol
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 17:57

1 Answer 1


In most cases there needs to be a good reason to use a perfect tense -- that you want to call attention to the relationship between two events, or that you need to explain that one action happened before (or precipitated) another event. Otherwise the reader expects the relation to have some significance.


I counted / had counted the money before it was locked in the vault.

"I counted" simply suggests that one event happened, and then the next event happened. But "I had counted" implies that there is some significance to counting the money, in relation to it being put safely away, for example, if I'm being questioned because some of the money is missing.

As FumbleFingers' comment says, in this context there is no reason to connect the events in a significant way. Something happened when Susan left. However, the writer does use the past perfect progressive "had been arguing" to create significance between the arguing and the leaving.


Before I met Sylvia, I led a nomadic lifestyle -- I wandered around from place to place, and never thought about the future.

So far we're just talking about the events of my life, A happened then B, then C, etc. But then I can use the perfect to draw attention to what was going on immediately before the significant event I want to talk about:

I had been living in Amsterdam for three months, working odd jobs, when, one day, our eyes met at a small cafe in the red light district.

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