Which is correct:

We didn't play football yesterday. The match was canceled/had been canceled.

I think was canceled is correct, but the second? - I'm confused. Maybe firstly the match was canceled and then we didn't play. If so, then the second is correct. I would like to know how the native speakers think which is right.

  • 1
    you could say: : "the match was cancelled yesterday, because..." . Colin's answer explains the use of the past perfect clearly.
    – anouk
    Commented Sep 19, 2019 at 17:06

3 Answers 3


If you use the past perfect you are always relating the event to some later temporal focus. This temporal focus may be explicit or implicit; it may be another event you are talking about, or a time that you want to look back from, but there is some later time.

If you say "The match had been cancelled", you are looking back at the cancellation from some later time - perhaps the end of the school day, or maybe in the evening. This is perfectly grammatical, and meaningful; but if there is no context which suggests when the time is that you are choosing to look back from, and why you are making that choice, then the hearer/reader may be puzzled as to why you made that choice.

  • 1
    I think it's pretty clear. The match being cancelled was the cause of not playing, and thus is being located as being prior to the not playing. Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 21:04
  • @Acccumulation Something always happens before something else in the past. The match had been cancelled that afternoon he remarked, Colin's answer is fine. So is mine.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 20:47

You say:

The match was cancelled.

Yesterday: The match had been cancelled by the school because it rained.

The school knew it was going to rain due to the weather forecast.

match cancellation occurred before the rain.

That's the rule for this kind of thing.


Past tense is much easier, in my opinion. Past tense is basically what happened before something happened but past perfect tense is basically something that happens before something happens and something happens again.

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