This is from a newspaper:

The real reason he was arrested was because he smeared poo all over the walls.

Shouldn't the past perfect be used:

... he was arrested because he had smeared poo all over the walls.

The smearing occurred before the arrest, a past event that precedes another past event, so why use the past simple?

1 Answer 1


Your quote uses "was" twice - once to show that he was arrested, and again to show that the cited reason was in the past. There is nothing in this sentence to suggest that the incident came after the arrest. In fact, the use of "because" shows that the latter was the cause of the former.

Your re-write makes perfect sense too though.

  • 3
    @anouk They are both past events joined by the conjunction "because" which denotes that one is the cause of the other. The order of events is clear.
    – Astralbee
    Apr 12, 2019 at 11:38
  • I thought the past perfect was used to express that something happened in the past ( the smearing) before something else ( the arrest) that happened in the past. So in your opinion both past perfect and past simple are possible in this case? –
    – anouk
    Apr 12, 2019 at 13:42
  • I was taught that past simple is possible instead of past perfect with "after" and "before" . I didn't know this rule also applies to " because".
    – anouk
    Apr 12, 2019 at 13:46
  • @anouk There's no such rule. The rule of thumb would be if the (intended) order of events is clear, the past perfect is optional.
    – user3395
    Apr 12, 2019 at 14:40

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