I have problem with understanding why we have put this sentence in the past perfect tense.

Harold had known about it for a while

There is no two actions one happened before the other like when we include before and after. Can we say harold had know about it for a while?

I ask because there is no two action happening. Past perfect should be about two action happened in the past one finished and then another action happened with some period of time between them e.g.:

  1. I had brushed my teeth before I went to bed.
  2. By the time you came I had left.
  • 2
    The only completely intelligible & grammatically correct sentence in your question is the one you are querying. Why is it that you think it has a problem? Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 19:27
  • 2
    There are two events happening at different points in the past in the sentence, it's just not obvious. We are describing Harold at a certain point in the past, and Harold knew about it before that point.
    – stangdon
    Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 21:02
  • i don't really remember where i have heard this sentence and sorry for the wrong formation. Commented Jul 19, 2018 at 22:16

2 Answers 2


"Harold had known about it for a while" means there are two moments in the past: first the moment Harold found out something, for example in April 2018, and the second moment, for example June 2018, when some time had passed and he had known about it for a while. Both of these moments are now (July 2018) in the past, and one moment happened earlier in the past than the other. That is why you use past perfect.

  • I feel like this answer could benefit from some formatting and punctuation, but I hesitate to edit because I'm not sure where I should stop.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 0:53
  • You don't (have to) use the (past) perfect to indicate that; you use it to set context for the actions that follow, which entails the action happened before that one. The result of the past (vs. present) perfect is an acquired state at the referenced moment in the past (vs. now). Why I think that is because if you merely wanted a sequence of events, you'd use the past simple with before, after, etc.
    – user3395
    Commented Jul 20, 2018 at 2:11

No, past perfect is not about two actions happening in the past. It is about an action which occurred before a time in the past which is the temporal focus of the discourse.

The temporal focus could be another event in the past; but it doesn't have to be: it is the time that the speaker is setting the narrative. Normally it will already have been set but it is quite common to begin a story with a sentence like your example, which tells the reader in one go that the story is set at a certain time (conventionally) in the past, and that Harold's knowing began before that "story time">

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