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I know the rules and differences like simple past is finished actions and more like story telling while present-perfect emphasizes the experience and its about actions that still continue and past-perfect is about actions finished before the past actions and such but when it comes to questions like in the picture I really cant decide which to use.Is there a more precise way or trick to determine which to use ?

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    A and D (and possibly even B) are possible answers here, depending on the time-frame existing in the writing. The examiners want A. Jun 11, 2019 at 11:59
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    What @EdwinAshworth said. I honestly don't see the point of multiple-choice questions like this, where more than one of the choices is syntactically valid (sometimes I wonder if the test setters know that! :) Jun 11, 2019 at 12:42
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    Why do the suggested answers always contain two words in the same tense? Do the people who set the test subscribe to the incorrect belief that you can't use two different tenses in the same sentence? It seems to me that had begun / was or began / would be are actually the most logical way to fill in the blanks. Jun 11, 2019 at 13:31
  • Oh my... I was criticized about putting image in my post a few days ago. And look at here... :)))
    – user516076
    Nov 20, 2021 at 1:17
  • @FumbleFingers As someone who has written, edited and approved these tests, they're mostly written by people who may understand their subject matter, but don't understand testing. My mentor in learning to be an ESL teacher to this days uses fill-in-the-blanks questions in her training material where she's taken a real English paragraph, removed words at random, and expects everyone's answers to line up with the original, which of course they don't where other choices are possible.
    – gotube
    Nov 21, 2021 at 6:15

2 Answers 2


Without any other context, I would use the simple past tense.

However, if the next sentence said, “But since then, her career had gone downhill, and she was trying to make a comeback,” past perfect would be more appropriate. In that case, our perspective is actually looking back at a time after the 1920s, but before the present, when her popularity was already over. “Was” means that point later in her life, after she had stopped being popular, and “had been” means what had happened before then.

If instead the passage continued, “But that was still ahead of her. When she was a young girl, ....” that would move the perspective further back in time, to a point from which events in her childhood “were” and events in the 1910s and 1920s “would begin” or “would be.”

  • Whoops, was wondering why the downvote and then saw a big mistake in the first sentence. Without context that changes the perspective of the passage to a different point in time, from which events “would be” or “had been” in the 1920s, this should be the simple past, not the presnt. My apologies.
    – Davislor
    Nov 20, 2021 at 21:01
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    Don't worry, I redeemed you. You're now back at par. :) Nov 20, 2021 at 22:14

The option C is not correct because it's present perfect tense but in the sentence it's talk about the past.

For the option B we can not use past perfect tense for both sentences. To use past perfect there should be an action was completed (finished or "perfected") at some point in the past before something else happened.

The answer is A because Bessie Smith began to her career in the 1910s. It happened before now. Also,she was famous/ well known and she finished her career in the past.We know the period of the time.

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