The sentence

"He went out after he had made a few calls and left a message to his wife."

has one main verb, 'go', in the Past Simple, and two subordinate verbs, 'make' and 'leave', mentioning actions that are anterior to the main one. Why then not use a Past Perfect Simple for both? Why is 'leave' in the Past Simple?

2 Answers 2


The subordinate verb 'leave' is NOT in the Past Simple, of course! It is, as it should be, in the Past Perfect Simple. The COMPLETE, UNSIMPLIFIED sentence reads:

"He went out after he had made a few calls and had left a message to his wife."

But in the second Past Perfect Simple, the auxiliary 'had' was dropped… for the sake of simplification: never forget that the main law in English – as in any other language, probably – is The Law of Least Effort! So, why repeat the auxiliary?!

The only problem is that this tendency to simplify makes sentences look as if they do not follow the rules that we have so painstakingly learnt!

My advice to any learner, I am one too, is always to go back to the full, unsimplified sentence, where the rules apply.


Here, "leave" is in fact in the past perfect simple, but the same "had" suffices to modify both "made" and "left." This would be more clear if the verb "leave" had different past tense and past participle. I can see why this example is confusing!

We can also do this in the present perfect:

"I have drunk all your wine and eaten all your food."

  • Right! With the verb 'eat', it is not ambiguous any more, because its Past Simple and Past Participle are different. The problem exists with all regular verbs and with all irregular verbs which have the same form for Past Simple and Past Participle.
    – user58319
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 12:00

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