We have two sentences with the same words and actions in the past:

  1. He had said that to me BEFORE I asked him. Here we have classical representation of Past Perfect by its rules. As I read here on site some answer that the word "before" is sufficient to show that the first action is " he says" and we can use simply Past Simple instead of Past Perfect it will be equally intelligible and we can say:

  2. He had said that to me BEFORE I asked him. = He said that to me BEFORE I asked him.

But! Can it be possible that Past Perfect Tense may express UNFINISHED action that happened BEFORE the next action but was not finished? For example we say:

  1. He said that to me BEFORE I had asked him.

May it mean that I started asking him, maybe I opened my mouth and it was THE FIRST action and he, for example, understood "what" I was going to ask him and started "to say "that" to me"? So, that was the second action and we use in such cases or sentences exactly this arrangement of grammatical tenses, as was shown in the third example....

1 Answer 1


The examples you have given are awkward and complicate the answers you seek.

You seem to be saying that he spoke to you before you asked him a question. It's not clear whether what he said was an answer to the question you were about to ask.

To simplify matters, let us rephrase your example/s as:

He spoke to me before I spoke to him.

This is a typical, correct English sentence using the past tense. It makes clear that you spoke to each other but that he was the first to speak.

You might also say:

He had spoken to me before I spoke to him.

Using the past perfect signifies that he had finished speaking to you before you responded. But the facts remain the same; he spoke first and you responded. One is most likely to use this construction when reporting a conversation, as in:

I told the court that he had spoken to me before I spoke to him.

Your final example is also possible. To make it clearer, change it slightly to read:

He told me that the meeting was in the hall before I had even framed the question.

In this instance you are reporting his statement in the past tense and using the past perfect to refer to something that might have happened earlier but didn't - your unasked question! Yes, you can interpret the sequence as you suggest.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .