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Does Past Perfect sound good here? This sentence is from the book, but I am not sure why we need Past Perfect here. It would make more sense to use Past Simple there.

He must, he thought, have been ten or eleven years old when his mother had disappeared.

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  • Possible duplicate of Canonical Post #2: What is the perfect, and how should I use it?
    – Eddie Kal
    Nov 20, 2019 at 21:47
  • Wow. I have thought long and hard about language, but that canonical post has made me think anew. Nov 21, 2019 at 4:39
  • @EddieKal Those canonical rules need clear examples. Even though I am no learner, my eyes glaze over trying to follow arguments without clear examples. Also, I object to there not being a clear mention at the beginning of: present perfect, present perfect continuous and past perfect and past perfect continuous. The question should be: What are the present and past perfect tenses (including the continuous forms)?
    – Lambie
    Jan 2 at 21:41

2 Answers 2

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It would certainly be grammatical, and to my ear, more idiomatic to have written

He must, he thought, have been ten or eleven years old when his mother disappeared.

Obviously there is no question of a sequence of events here because the point is to assert their simultaneity.

I hesitate to say it is ungrammatical because the mother did not disappear every day for two years. That is, for at least part of those two years, the mother had disappeared. This may be one of those sentences where intent tripped over syntax and what was meant is actually something like

His mother must, he thought, have disappeared a year or so after he had turned 10.

There the past perfect is fully justified though not completely necessary because the "after" alone makes the sequence clear.

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He must, he thought, have been ten or eleven years old when his mother had disappeared.

The past perfect here is used because the mother's disappearance preceded how old he was. It did not occur when he was ten years old.

*When I was ten years old, she had disappeared. She didn't disappear when I was ten years old. Her disappearance occurred before I was that age.

COMPARE:

When I was ten years old, she disappeared. In this case, she DID disappear when he was ten years old.

There is a rule that the past perfect signals a prior event. This is thus one example of its being used correctly.

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