Should I use past simple or past perfect? (Cloze test)

He ____ all students to do it, but he forgot to do so.

  1. had told
  2. told

My friends answered 2. because they think that it is parallel structure but I think it should be “had told” because the guy has to tell the others before forget it.. am I correct?

Thank you in advance. 🙏🏻

  • It's a stylistic choice whether to use Past Perfect in your context. But my guess is on average, Simple Past would be far more common. We don't necessarily use more complex verb forms when the temporal relationship is contextually obvious anyway. Commented Feb 29, 2020 at 15:31
  • 3
    Does this answer your question? Canonical Post #2: What is the perfect, and how should I use it? Commented Feb 29, 2020 at 15:31
  • 1
    That’s helpful.thank you.
    – user16887
    Commented Feb 29, 2020 at 15:38
  • With reporting verbs (asked, told, replied,said and many more , past perfect is not used.
    – asr09
    Commented Feb 29, 2020 at 15:47
  • @asr09 Is this correct? —>Susan ‘I have done that already’. {and then transform this sentence} Susan told you that she had done that already.
    – user16887
    Commented Feb 29, 2020 at 16:09

1 Answer 1


The problem with most "choose the correct tense" question is that tense carries meaning, and different tenses can be used with different meanings.

So in this case, both past and past perfect are possible. The meaning is slightly different (but not very different). As there is no particular need for past perfect in the rest of the phrase, most speakers would probably choose past tense (because it is the default tense for past actions).

But there are lots of other tenses that could make more sense. A future in the past "was going to tell" would seem to fit the meaning better. A lot depends on whether you understand "so" to mean "telling his students" or "doing the thing that he told his student to do". Both interpretations are possible.

So the answer that the test setter probably wants is "told" but it is not a good and unambiguous question.

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