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Which one us correct?

  1. Jane studied the lawyer's face carefully before she answered him.
  2. Jane had studied the lawyer's face carefully before she answered him.
  • Which one do you think is correct - and why? – Ronald Sole Apr 7 at 13:59
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It depends - did the studying take place earlier in the narrative, or at the present point of the narrative? If it's at the present of the narrative - that is, she's now studying/answering - then it's the past simple (preterite); if the narrative has moved on and it's disclosing information about earlier, then it's the past perfect. This is because the past perfect is for past-in-past.

For example:

It was a difficult question, and needed to be considered with caution. Jane studied the lawyer's face carefully before she answered him.

At this point in the narrative, we are describing the point in the narrative immediate before the answer is given. Preterite.

His response was calm, as if he had expected this setback, but Jane had studied the lawyer's face carefully before she answered him. She knew that he'd been expecting her to give in, and she hadn't, and she knew that he'd lost composure - however good a front he put on.

At this point in the narrative, the answer has already been given, so the studying is further in the past, so the past perfect is used.

  • Thank you so much. Could not have anticipated a better and more comprehensive reply. – Anna Apr 7 at 15:41

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