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I have difficulty understanding the usage of the English Past Tenses. Here's the first sentence and a picture which shows the state and the action in time:

I was kind to them for a month before I became angry.

Is this sentence grammatically and logically correct?

  1. Doesn't it require the Past Perfect tense for the main clause to indicate that the state precedes the action?
  2. Is the Past Perfect tense optional (not necessary)?
  3. Or is it just grammatically incorrect to use the Past Perfect tense here, like this: "I had been kind to them for a month before I became angry"?

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Another example:

I had (already) been hungry for 3 hours when she fed me.

And my last question:

Would it be correct and mean the same, if it were like this: "I was (already) hungry for 3 hours when she fed me"?

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"I was kind to them for a month before I became angry" and "I had been kind" are both possible in this case because of the word "before". This makes it clear that the being kind took place before the becoming angry. The past perfect is not necessary, but in written language the past perfect looks good and you will find it in literature. Because "before"is used, it is also possible to use a duration "for a month" with the past simple.

In your second example this is not the case, "I had been hungry for 3 hours when she fed me" doesn't use "before" but "when". At the time in the past when you were fed you had been hungry for 3 hours, so the time you became hungry was even further in the past. Here the past perfect is necessary and not optional. You can't say "I was hungry for 3 hours when she fed me". It is possible for a future tense: "I will be hungry for 3 hours before she feeds me", or without a duration: "I was hungry when she fed me".

By the way: I assume you are an adult and not a small child, you don't need a woman to feed you or cook for you, you can do that yourself.

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  • Is this possible for the future?: I will have been hungry for 3 hours before she feeds me. – Vincent Y Jan 12 at 2:15
  • By the way: I assume you are an adult and not a small child, you don't need a woman to feed you or cook for you, you can do that yourself. Hmm. I assumed the OP was being held hostage by a woman. – user105719 Jan 12 at 3:45
  • @Yong yes, it is. – anouk Jan 12 at 15:39
  • @user105719 good point, I hadn't thought about that. – anouk Jan 12 at 15:42
  • @anouk I've got an impression that native-speakers for some reason (maybe there's some rule?) prefer not to use past perfect with [subject][be][adjective], like in "be married", "be slim" but they do it with verbs which describe some action [subject][do/does], like in "I explain", "She drives". Here's some examples: "I was married [subject][be][adjective] for a year before I got divorced" and "I had been explaining [subject][do/does] it for an hour before I gave a test". Most who I've talked with preferred "I was married" to "I had been married". – Rusletov Jan 12 at 19:30

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