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Could you tell if there is any difference in meaning between the following sentences?

I watched the movie many times when I was a child.

I had watched the movie many times when I was a child.

Are both perfectly natural?

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  • It all depends on the context. If whatever you were talking about before making this statement was already in the past, use the second (Perfect) verb form. Otherwise use the first (Simple Past). If you just walked up to someone and said I had [done something] as a child (i.e. - no preceding context) they might well ask And then what happened? That's because the Past Perfect effectively requires a "narrative reference time" in the past (since you're referring to something that happened before that time in the past), but that context isn't already established. Feb 14, 2021 at 13:13
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    Context #1: I'm watching Shrek again tonight. I watched it many times when I was a child. Context #2: I watched Shrek again last night. I had watched it many times when I was a child. Feb 14, 2021 at 13:18
  • Thanks for the comment! I thought "when I was a child" is a narrative reference time. That's why I can't see the difference. Feb 14, 2021 at 13:22
  • Hmm. Not sure how to clarify things. Consider this context: "Do you want to watch Shrek tonight?" "No thanks. I watched it last night. It's obvious to me that last night there isn't functioning as an established "narrative reference time in the past", so you would never say I had watched it last night in that context. Though you might feasibly say I have watched it last night (in which context the narrative reference time is now, not "then, when I watched it"). Feb 14, 2021 at 13:52
  • You have asked this question before.
    – Lambie
    Feb 15, 2021 at 15:48

2 Answers 2

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I don't think the simple tense is what you are fishing for. The second sentence is more likely to be said, especially if you aim to express the completion in the past. But AmE doesn't necessarily rely on the perfect aspect unless it's necessary.

e.g.

Since when did you own a word processor?

I was here since before 8 a.m

I wouldn't say your first sentence is plain wrong or it's not uncommon but the second one is preferable, at least to my ear. Like I said, completion.

That said, both are natural and interchangeable.

To sum this up, it's not one of those verbs you'd use to express your behavior or habits in the past as in:

I was addicted to that movie when I was a child.

or

I used to/would play that movie over so many times when I was a child.

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If you look at these sentences as answers to the questions you could see the difference.

Second one is an answer to the question: "Had you ever watched this movie?"

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