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I am learning Past Perfect and Simple Past tense on a paragraph below

Leyton stared at the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean in front of him. He had finally come to the end of his journey. Several months ago he did not know whether the journey would really be possible. After all , he had recovered from his illness only weeks before he made the decision well, it was because of the illnese that he had decide to do this, to prove it was possible. Then, after a few weeks of planning and worrying, he...(set out)..., starting from the northernmost point. And here he was, at the end of his journey - he ...(achieve)... his aim. And he realised now that it was the most exciting thing he had never done - and probably ever would do - in his life.

As the answer from my book, both of the blank space are past perfect tense. But from what I understand that the past perfect tense need at least 2 sentences to compare timeline in the past to determine which ones happened first. But in 2 sentences:

  • Then, after a few weeks of planning and worrying, he...(set out)..., starting from the northernmost point.

the "set out" means "begin his journey" and just following the timeline "after a few week" not comparing the time. So I think this is a simple past tense NOT past perfect.

And the same as for the rest confusing sentence "And here he was, at the end of his journey - he ...(achieve)... his aim".

Could you please share your ideas that my understand is correct or not in this reading.

Thanks, Learn.

  • Why do you say there is not a clear timeline? – Lambie Jul 31 '18 at 17:57
  • your book is wrong, the simple past is possible also in both blanks – Michael Login Jul 31 '18 at 18:02
  • @Mv Log: he achieved his aim would not work there, not when in other places in the passage the past perfect is used to indicate attainment, as in He had finally come to the end of his journey. But after a few weeks of planning and worrying he set out would be fine. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jul 31 '18 at 21:01
  • @MvLog if the section of the book in question is about learning the difference between Simple Past and Past Perfect, then it's implied that you should use Past Perfect where possible. Overall yeah, Past Perfect is generally optional where context suffices, although in this case I'd use it - just to avoid misinterpreting an event as happening back in the narrative's "default" timeline. – Maciej Stachowski Aug 1 '18 at 8:03
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The first sentence of your paragraph establishes a past point in time:

Leyton stared at the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean in front of him.

Everything that happened before that point should be related in Past Perfect - otherwise the reader might interpret it as a new event rather than a part of the character's reminiscence.

So Leyton stared at the sea, thinking about how he had set out for his journey, had traveled a lot and ultimately had achieved his goal, and he realized how exciting the journey had been. The realization came after he began staring at the sea, but everything else came before that - hence Past Perfect.

  • Should is an exaggeration here imo. The meaning of the paragraph would have been quite clear without a whole bunch of the past perfects not only those two in question. It's a question of style: When describing one event following another in the past, we can show their relation by using the past perfect for the earlier event, or else we can use the past tense for both, relying on a conjunction (e.g. after, before, when) to show which event took place earlier. (Geoffrey Leech and Jan Svartvik) – Michael Login Jul 31 '18 at 17:57
  • @Maciej Stachowski, how's about the sentence "Several months ago he did not know whether the journey would really be possible", if the book made a question for the verb (not know), should we user past perfect or past simple ? – LearningandWorking Aug 2 '18 at 14:51
  • @LearningandWorking with that "several months ago" already telling us the timeline explicitly I don't think Past Perfect is needed here, and it feels hypercorrect to me. – Maciej Stachowski Aug 2 '18 at 15:54

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