Would anybody tell me what the tense of the following sentence is? And the reason why that tense is used?

They'd been married for twenty years.

Thanks in advance.


3 Answers 3


"They had been married for twenty years". First of all, had is past tense, the present tense is have (has for other cases), "They have been married for twenty years".

There's two good reasons for using past tense here.

  1. If the narration enclosing the sentence is already past tense - if someone is relating information about something before, such as something like:

"Bob had gone to the diner for lunch that day. His friend Sam had been there, with his wife. They'd been married for twenty years. Still went to the same diner after all this time."

So, they're still married, just the information itself was given in past tense.
  1. The fact itself was past tense. In this example, the twenty year marriage was no longer 'live' - either they had had a divorce after twenty years, or the people themselves were no longer alive to be considered married.
  • Without context it's ambiguous whether or not they were still married, or no longer married, the only unambiguous information is that they were married for 20 years before now.
    – Mercury00
    Mar 20, 2014 at 7:11
  • Also, Damkerng T.'s link is good. Also, I'm not allowed to comment anywhere but on my own post, because stack exchange is awesome for new people like that!
    – Mercury00
    Mar 20, 2014 at 7:12

The tense is used because the writer (or speaker) wants to say that they're married 20 years ago, and they are still married, and not divorced.

  • Thank you so much. But which one? HAD BEEN OR HAVE BEEN? and why?
    – nima
    Mar 20, 2014 at 8:31
  • @nima_persian Writing in all capitals is considered SHOUTING. Please consider using "quotes" or italics :-)
    – user230
    Mar 20, 2014 at 9:18
  • If you use Had Been it means thy were married for 20 year and currently divorced. IF you use Have been then They were married from last 20 years and now also they are married and not divorced
    – user4084
    Mar 20, 2014 at 9:22
  • @user4084: no. You can use had been without it meaning they are divorced (or dead). They can still be married in the present, even if you say they had been married for 20 years.
    – oerkelens
    Mar 20, 2014 at 9:27
  • Thank you so much. And I am so sorry, because I did not know anything about "capitals" which you have just said to me.
    – nima
    Mar 20, 2014 at 11:39

This sentence is in the past perfect tense. In the context of a narrative given in the past tense, sentences like this can "set the stage", describing the situation in which the narrative takes place. But the chain of events would mainly use the past simple.

  • Thank you all so much, but I can not yet understand.
    – nima
    Mar 20, 2014 at 10:48

You must log in to answer this question.

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