2

Is the following sentence correct or incorrect? I think it should be a past perfect sentence.

I had forgotten that I was going to read a book when the guests came home and we started talking to each other.

  • 2
    Yes, it is correct. – user1513 Jun 4 '14 at 10:02
2

One of the uses of past perfect is to refer to an event that takes place before another event in the past. For example:

  • I had written poetry before writing short stories.
    PAST EVENT = writing short stories
    PRIOR EVENT = I had written poetry

  • I didn't realize that you had written this until I read the comments.
    PAST EVENT = I didn't realize
    PRIOR EVENT = you had written this

  • I could understand the movie only because I had read the book before.
    PAST EVENT = I could understand the movie
    PRIOR EVENT = I had read the book

  • I wasn't surprised because I had prepared myself in advance.
    PAST EVENT = I wasn't surprised
    PRIOR EVENT = I had prepared myself

  • I had already left by the time you got home.
    PAST EVENT = you got home
    PRIOR EVENT = I had already left

  • I had already left when you got home.
    PAST EVENT = you got home
    PRIOR EVENT = I had already left

The last example above is similar to the one in your example:

  • I had forgotten that I was going to read a book, when the guests came home and we started talking to each other.
    PAST EVENT = the guests came home and we started talking to each other
    PRIOR EVENT = I had forgotten that I was going to read a book

The event of "forgetting" takes places before the arrival of your guests, and the arrival of your guests happened some time in the past.


UPDATE

GregD points out in the comments that the situation described by the sentence:

I had forgotten that I was going to read a book, when the guests came home and we started talking to each other.

is unlikely. I agree with him and I think that a more plausible situation would be:

The guests came home and we started talking to each other, so I forgot that I was going to read a book.

In this case, GregD uses simple past to describe a sequence of events in the past. The order in which these events take place is inferred from the meaning of the sentence. It is also possible to use the past perfect to make apparent what this order is:

I forgot (simple past) that I was going to read a book, because the guests had come (past perfect) home and we had started (past perfect) talking to each other

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    I read the sentence to imply that event of "forgetting" took place after, or because of, the guests coming and the discussion taking place. IE, "The guests came home and we started talking to each other, so I forgot that I was going to read a book." – Greg D Jun 4 '14 at 19:33
  • 1
    @GregD I think the context you describe makes more sense, but in that case, the problem with the original sentence is not only the use of past perfect, but also the use of the adverb "when". I will update my answer to comment on this. – Nico Jun 5 '14 at 9:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.