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Which tense is correct to use?

"they were married for 14 years before divorcing in 2016" or "they had been married for 14 years before divorcing in 2016"

There's a relative event mentioned, i.e. before divorcing. So, to my mind, the only grammatical option is to use the Past Perfect Progressive. But why would anyone use the Past Simple ?

Another similar example:

"I had been explaining this rule to you for half a lesson before I gave you a test"

This is how I was taught to use the Past Perfect Progressive.

Should I rather use the past progressive then?

"I was explaining this rule to you for half a lesson before..."

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    I find your “test” example to be quite dissimilar from the main question and so it confuses the issue for me, I’m sorry. – Orbital Aussie Jan 8 '20 at 14:42
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    A better second example perhaps: “He was permanently resident in Australia for 14 years before his deportation in 2016.” “He had been permanently resident in Australia for 14 years before his deportation in 2016.” Again, I prefer the first version using past simple. – Orbital Aussie Jan 8 '20 at 15:05
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Using the past perfect, as opposed to past simple, might be to clarify a sequence of events (the marriage occurred before the divorce), or to emphasise the moment of the divorce - perhaps because you want to say something more about it.

In this case there is no need to clarify the timeline (the marriage must have been before the divorce and stopped then) and the past simple seems a much more natural usage - to me, as a British English speaker.

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    Could you bring some examples of where I should use one tense or the other? It would make it clearer. – Rusletov Dec 27 '19 at 8:17
  • You could say "They had been married for 14 years when they divorced in 2016", but there is no reason to when the first version is perfectly clear. – Kate Bunting Dec 27 '19 at 9:32
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    By natural, do you mean colloquial speech? Spoken language? – Cacambo Jan 5 '20 at 8:38
  • As an Australian English speaker, I have to agree with Ferrante Palla. The clarity of the timeline means the simplest tense solution is the best. Natural usage means both written and spoken (but not colloquial here) and excludes particularly formal usage. – Orbital Aussie Jan 8 '20 at 14:37
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I fully agree with your line of reasoning. As soon as the more recent event is expressed in past simple, the more distant one has to be expressed in a slightly more distant tense - the corresponding perfect tense.

'2016' i.e. a date in the past is a standard trigger of the simple past tense. Therefore, 'divorcing in 2016' can be considered equal to 'they divorced in 2016'. With 'I gave you a test' the situation is clear, anyway.

Now, 'were merried' is not more distant than 'divorced'. It's the same simple past with a praticiple as adjective. Same as 'were nice'. We need more. That's why 'had been merried' is necessary just as 'had been nice' would be necessary.

(I only disagree with the notion 'I was explaining the rule' would be an example for past simple. It's, of course, past progressive/continuous. And 'I had been explaining the rule' past perfect progressive/continuous.)

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