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When she left, she realized that she ate his snack

When she left, she realized that she was eating his snack

I am writing about a situation where she already ate his snack before she realized what she did and I am not sure which sentence would be correct. I would also appreciate if you could tell me the difference.

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    If the snack is completely eaten (she's not still eating it), the most likely phrasing would be ...she realized that she had eaten his snack. The Past Continuous version (was eating) is only suitable if your "narrative time" (the time that you're talking about, when things were happening) falls somewhere between when she started eating it, and when she finished. Apr 21, 2020 at 17:40

2 Answers 2

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The difference between these two sentences is that while the first describes a discrete (past perfect) act of eating, the second describes a continuous (imperfect) act of eating.

However, a better way write what I believe you're trying to communicate would be, When she left, she realized that she had eaten his snack.

This is an example of the pluperfect past tense. It's appropriate here because we're trying to describe a time in the past (when she left) at which time she realized something about a time deeper in the past (when she ate the apple).

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The simple past (she ate his snack) is a backshifted version of the simple present (she eats his snack), which is rarely used for most verbs except for a habitual or timeless sense.

So what you want is either a backshifted version of

She is eating his snack => She was eating his snack

or of

She has eaten his snack => She had eaten his snack.

depending on the meaning you want.

(She ate his snack is also possible for the "present" version, though I think less likely, and that would also backshift to She had eaten his snack. The past perfect serves as a backshifted version of both the past and the present perfect).

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