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Consider the following paragraph:

My account was suspended after I used what I believe was an expired confirmation code for changing my payment details. I had not received a confirmation email immediately after switching to Payoneer from PayPal on the website. When it arrived 2-3 hours later, I had clicked on the link in it and had entered the confirmation code but was told that the confirmation code was incorrect. I had tried a couple of times more thinking maybe I had done something wrong the first time around but the error message persisted. Immediately after that, an email had arrived saying that my account was going to be suspended for security reasons.

The first sentence of the paragraph describes what happened to my account (it was suspended), and the rest of the paragraph details what led to the suspension. So, if the first sentence is in simple past tense, then the rest of the paragraph has to be in past perfect tense. Have I used "had" and "was" correctly here? If not, could you please point out the mistakes?

2 Answers 2

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There is no need to use the past perfect in this situation. The best way to structure this is use the past tense throughout and use a paragraph break to indicate the shift in time:

My account was suspended after I used what I believe was an expired confirmation code for changing my payment details.

I did not receive a confirmation email immediately after switching to Payoneer from PayPal on the website. When it arrived 2-3 hours later, I clicked on the link...

The rest of the paragraph is chronological. Use of the past perfect is sometimes (but rarely) useful when temporarily referring back to an earlier time, but in most situations, you should try to use past tense and chronological order. When you switch to a new time frame, you start a new paragraph.

It would be possible to write:

I clicked on the link that I had received in a confirmation email, but was told that the confirmation code was incorrect.

Here you can see a correct use of the past perfect to indicate an earlier time, but the paragraph switches back to past tense right after. You should not try to write whole blocks of text in the past perfect.

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  • Thank you so much @James K, that is a great idea. But if it would not be asking too much, how would you write it if you were asked to write it in a single paragraph in past perfect tense? Please.
    – nangkong
    May 15, 2021 at 6:59
  • I would not write it in past perfect tense. If I could not write in paragraphs for technical reasons, I would not use paragraphs. I would still just use past tense. Past perfect is only for a temporary switch to an earlier time. I'll try to re-iterate that in my answer.
    – James K
    May 15, 2021 at 7:08
  • Thank yo so much @James K. "Past perfect is only for a temporary switch to an earlier time." That is probably the answer I was looking for.
    – nangkong
    May 15, 2021 at 7:32
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Past perfect grammar in nutshell is to define an event that happened before another one in the past as @James K described and I am just adding to his... consider an action A and B in a Timeline

========A==========B=====>

see A happened before B

Example: like I had eaten dinner when the door bell rang, See the first part (Action A) happened before B

Now back to yours.... suspension of the account takes place in the past (Action A) and the rest of the paragraph is just and action that can be called as Action B u need to simply use "Simple Past Tense" Example :

  1. I didn't receive...
  2. I clicked...
  3. I tried...
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  • Would it be possible to emphasize the order of the events to use only past perfect for receive I had not received to indicate the beginning of the story. I ve seen that technics in some books to emphasize the shift in time
    – Yves Lefol
    May 15, 2021 at 8:39
  • @user5577 hmmm I dont think I get your question but Yes you can start with past perfect to start the main idea of your story... but to be clear can you give me an example of it ? May 15, 2021 at 8:50
  • this story began because he did not receive a confirmation email. I was wondering if it was possible to emphasize the shift in time (between the effect and the cause)and to make clear the order of the events (the cause generally comes before the effect which is not the case here) to use past perfect only for receive since the rest of story is in chronological order
    – Yves Lefol
    May 15, 2021 at 9:18

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