Here is the paragraph

The following year Mr Luggs had returned to Scotland and had joined with his brother again in a new band. Mr Luggs stuck to drums with this band.

I would have written:

The following year Mr Luggs returned to Scottland and joined with his brother again in a new band. Mr Luggs stuck to drums with this band.

In the same text I've found this. It's the beginning of the text...

Mr Luggs began his musical career as a teenager when he joined his brother's band in the early eighties, but he had already musical experience , with his own...

I would have written but "he had already had" because the musical experience were before he began (already) or am I wrong to think that? Maybe "he began..." then had musical experiences and joined (both actions were roughly at the same time).

  • I can't find the original source, but I'd say you're probably right on the first point. Not so much because the actions are in chronological order as because "the following year" implies that the immediately preceding text referred to an even earlier time. The writer should probably either have never started using past perfect at all, or should have dropped it before the text you cited. Incidentally, I'm inclined to suspect this is about Suggs, not Luggs, so there's probably some other confusion involved here. Jun 25, 2014 at 17:43
  • ...on the second point, I'm afraid even though it's "technically" valid, your "he had already had" sounds clunky. The easiest way to fix the non-idiomatic original is simply to reverse the words - but he already had musical experience. Jun 25, 2014 at 17:46
  • Why do you mean by this sentence The easiest way.....words . I dont understand very well .Why is it clunky ?
    – Yves Lefol
    Jun 25, 2014 at 18:55
  • Clunky = clumsy, awkward-sounding, unnecessarily difficult to read. Strictly speaking, repeating had so close together (in two different grammatical roles) is "correct", since you can reasonably say "I have had experience of this sort of thing". But you can also say "I have experienced this sort of thing", which means the same and is just easier. When it's further complicated by past perfect to "I had had experience of it", it would usually be much better to just say "I had experienced it". Jun 25, 2014 at 20:23
  • Sorry - I just realised what's probably the exact bit you don't understand. In theory, your cited but he had already musical experience is actually "valid" English (or at least, would have been, a century or two ago). Don't worry about that - so far as you're concerned, we'll just say it's not valid English today. The writer certainly didn't intend to use archaic phrasing - it's just a mistake. But the change I suggested (swapping those two words around) is valid English. Jun 25, 2014 at 20:43

1 Answer 1


Past simple and past perfect can both be proper for actions that occurred in the past. In the first paragraph, the author may be using past perfect to place the action (Mr. Luggs returning to Scotland to join his brother's band) in the context of a larger narrative. Because the next sentence takes place within this new, narrower context, it's not necessary to continue using the perfect aspect to provide additional context.

In fact, continuing with the perfect aspect could be confusing, because it could be read as referring to a point further back in time from the point at which Mr. Luggs returned to Scotland. Consider:

John had moved back to Oregon, where he had worked as a carpenter.

We can deduce from the first part of the sentence ("John had moved back to Oregon") that John once lived in Oregon, moved away, and then moved back. But does the second part ("where he had worked as a carpenter") mean that John worked as a carpenter the first time he lived in Oregon, or the second time? I would read it as indicating that he worked as a carpenter the first time. But if we use the past simple in the second part of the sentence:

John had moved back to Oregon, where he worked as a carpenter.

...it's clearer that the writer means that John worked as a carpenter after moving back to Oregon. (The reference to "a new band" in your first sentence makes confusion less likely here, but the use of past simple still makes the second sentence, well, simpler.)

  • 2
    I like your "Oregon" example for showing how sticking with past perfect longer than necessary doesn't just lead to "awkwardness". It can create genuine ambiguities that would simply never arise if people would only remember that the best thing to do with past perfect is to avoid it (i.e. - use it only when you need to, and stop using it as soon as it's no longer necessary). Jun 25, 2014 at 17:50

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .