There's the following sentence in my Grammar book:

It was a lovely surprise to find that all the washing-up HAD BEEN DONE while I was asleep.

The only answer mentioned in the answer key is past perfect (in capitals). Since today, I've thought that we use past perfect to clarify the order of actions but if it's clear by itself we don't need one.

I feel, in this sentence the order of actions is obvious, so WAS DONE is also possible. Even more—the past perfect isn't necessary.

Would someone please explain which tense should be used and why?

  • Choosing between simple past and past perfect is tricky for learners - so much so we have the past-vs-past-perfect tag! If you click on that tag, you will see a list of all the questions with that tag. Some of those might be helpful. – ColleenV parted ways Dec 13 '18 at 13:09

It was a lovely surprise to find that all the washing-up was done.

I would say that it is not past perfect. It is simple past with an adjective.

As a native speaker, I understand 'was done' in that context as 'was in a state of having been done'.

For example:

"My work is done" means "My work is complete"

"By the end of the week my work was done" means "By the end of the week my work was complete"

Grammatical explanation

Done can be used as an adjective.

done adjective

Definition of done (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : arrived at or brought to an end

One more question and we're done.

2 : doomed to failure, defeat, or death

3 : gone by : OVER

The day of the circus big top is done.

4 : physically exhausted

5 food : cooked sufficiently

Check to see if the meat is done.

6 : conformable to social convention

not the done thing


For the above reason, adding "whilst I was asleep" makes no sense.


I think the past perfect is used because "it was a lovely surprise" happened in the past (for example this morning at 10) and the dishes being done happened before that (earlier than 10 o'clock) = past in the past. "Was done" would be more appropriate if you speak about the past from the present: what a lovely surprise (at the present moment), the dishes were done while I was asleep.

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