I know it feels much more natural to say "it was a matter of minutes" but why can't "it had been a matter of minutes" be a possible answer to this CAE Part 4 Sentence Transformation task?

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The answer key suggests only the former as an option. However, I wonder if I can still use a past perfect since we have two past events in a sentence?

  • 2
    Without a narrative context, this question is unanswerable: the propriety of using a perfect construction is always dependent on the context. Feb 22, 2018 at 20:36

1 Answer 1


What do YOU want to say?

It was a matter of minutes before the ambulance came. That was when the patient died.

It had been a matter of minutes before the ambulance came. In those few intervening minutes, the patient had died.

Say those two sentences out loud and try to imagine when you would say them. Both are correct, but they do not mean the same thing.

In the second, you are referring to a time before it actually came.

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