I bought a Cherry mechanical keyboard yesterday. Cherry is a German keyboard-making company. I had a chance to use a Cherry keyboard before. One of my coworkers used a Cherry keyboard, and he let me use it for some time. It felt very nicer to type on than my membrane keyboard. I hadn't understood why people buy such expensive keyboards, but after using his, I realized why people buy them.

My native English-speaking friend told me that I can't say "I hadn't understood" because it sounds like a discrete action and thus sounds very weird to him.

I used the past perfect tense to refer to a time earlier than the time when I had a chance to use his keyboard. Could you grammatically explain why it is wrong?

  • 4
    It doesn't seem wrong to me; it seems to me to be correct and appropriate. Jun 7, 2021 at 14:55
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    Unrelated, but you can't say "very nicer." You can intensify a comparative adjective with "much," as in "much nicer." Jun 7, 2021 at 14:57
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    It is not wrong. I had understood [implied: before some event] why people buy x [a general statement].
    – Lambie
    Jun 7, 2021 at 16:30
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    As shown by this NGram hadn't known until then and didn't know until then are both in widespread use. Offhand, I can't think of a single context where those exact sequences wouldn't be fully equivalent and interchangeable. Jun 7, 2021 at 17:46
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    It seems to me that as a general principle, it's non-native speakers who prefer using the past perfect tense. Presumably because the basic definition "past within the past" seems easy to grasp, so learners are often a bit too keen to prove that they've understood it. With a sequence like hadn't understood until, obviously that "lack of understanding" occurred before whatever comes after the word until - which allows us to use the Past Perfect. But we don't have to, and as you'll see if you compare that with didn't understand until in NGrams, we usually don't. Jun 8, 2021 at 16:50

2 Answers 2


It's not wrong. It is the correct tense for the meaning you want to express, and sounds perfectly natural to me (UK English native).

You hadn't understood, but then later, you began to understand.

  • Some people say that I can't use the past perfect tense to refer to states (in this case, "understand" can be a state when its meaning is something like I know). btb.termiumplus.gc.ca/tpv2guides/guides/hyper/… It says, "The past perfect tense refers to actions that took place and were completed in the past." It doesn't talk anything about states but completed actions.
    – cdleace
    Jun 7, 2021 at 16:01
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pluperfect This Wiki page says, "Pluperfect derives from the Latin plus quam perfectum, "more than perfect". The word "perfect" in this sense means "completed"; it contrasts with the "imperfect", which denotes uncompleted actions or states."
    – cdleace
    Jun 7, 2021 at 16:08
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    And it's appropriate in this case. The alternative, past continuous, would be "I wasn't understanding," which sounds (to me) very non-idiomatic in this context. Jun 7, 2021 at 16:20
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    It's possible that the negative comes into play in that "not having done something" is a completed action. Jun 7, 2021 at 16:22
  • Thanks for helping me. Have a nice day.
    – cdleace
    Jun 8, 2021 at 16:31

In my opinion, there's nothing actually wrong with the part which you've emphasised in bold. It's perfectly fine. However there are some other minor issues. It's rather stilted, and too repetitious. Also there's one error that sticks out: "very nicer" is incorrect.

I'd like to suggest the following improvements so that it reads more naturally:

I bought a Cherry mechanical keyboard yesterday. Cherry is a German keyboard manufacturer. I'd had the chance to use one before which had belonged to my co-worker. He'd let me use it for a while, and it felt much nicer to type on than my membrane keyboard. Until then, I hadn't understood why people would buy such expensive keyboards.

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    @cdleace No, it wouldn't be right. It would sound odd to a native speaker. "One" is a pronoun which already refers to the previously mentioned keyboard.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 8, 2021 at 16:53
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    Is the past perfect in this sentence obligatory "I'd had the chance to use it before " because before is related to before I bought one so for me it does not sound obligatory but may be I'm wrong . ( is it the same with had belonged (may be it still belongs to his coworkers (is it a question of style for those two past perfect.
    – Yves Lefol
    Jun 8, 2021 at 16:59
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    @user5577 - I wouldn't say obligatory. That's too strong a word. In less formal speech you could omit the 'd after I, and nobody would probably care.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 8, 2021 at 17:18
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    @user5577 yes. You could use the simple past, again less formal, but not wrong. "would let me" sounds a little too formal sometimes. The contraction 'd can mean had or would. In this example it means "he had let me".
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 8, 2021 at 18:14
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    @cdleace - you can use "the" before one in certain contexts. It doesn't work in this example however. In my suggested correction, "one" is being used in the sense of "one of those kinds of keyboards previously mentioned". It's not a specific keyboard (the actual physical keyboard), so we can't use the indefinite article before "one" in that example.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 8, 2021 at 18:23

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