throughout the period the Sex pistols were active there had always been an intention to produce a film based around the band. It was always part of McLaren's master plan that the Pistols were more than merely a band.

Why in the first sentence it is written had been and in the second was. Does it mean that McLaren's plan that the SP were more than a band lasted longer than the idea of making a film (because he made this film). If both intentions(the film and to be more than a band) had lasted the same time because he did not make the film could the writer have written "was" in both sentences.

Phil rose exposé on The Great Rock'N'Roll Swindle Repeat fanzine Autumn 1997

  • There's no particular reason for the writer choosing to use Past Perfect for that first verb (he could just as well have written there was always an intention to...). Arguably Past Perfect more strongly "reminds" us that the period when the Sex Pistols were active was quite a long time ago now. But given John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) is still a regular "talking head" on chat shows, maybe that's not completely appropriate. Note that once the decision to use Past Perfect at all has been taken, it's quite common to only do this once, then revert to Simple Past for subsequent verbs. Aug 8, 2021 at 18:21
  • @FumbleFingers - I can't help musing on the difference between a 'Sex pistol' and a Sex Pistol. Aug 8, 2021 at 20:38
  • @MichaelHarvey: I was an overseas student in France when they first appeared. So far as I recall, the French equivalent pistol was kinda "baby / potty talk" for a young boy's penis (like Anglophonic winkle, willy), so from my perspective the name was more "childish scatology" rather than "edgy, anarchic, bohemian, unorthodox". And there seems to be no doubt that "survivor" Lydon is comfortably at home within "The Establishment" today. I kinda doubt Sid Vicious woulda made the cut though. Aug 9, 2021 at 12:34
  • The question form in English is: What does X mean? And: Why is had been written in the first sentence and was in the second? Please review how to ask a question in English in the simple present and with the verb to be.
    – Lambie
    Oct 3, 2023 at 17:20

1 Answer 1


Let's imagine we can get in in a time machine and go back to talk to Maclaren during that period.

If we asked him he might say

There has always been an intention to produce a film based around the band. It is part of my master plan....

Notice that this imaginary Maclaren, speaking in the present tense, uses present perfect for "there has always been".

Now when that narrative is transposed into the past tense, it is natural that the present perfect becomes past perfect.

Of course Maclaren could have said

There is an intention to produce a film...

So it would not be wrong to report "There was..."

And since that is just a hypothetical Maclaren, both past perfect and simple past would be correct. The author has chosen past perfect for the same reason that hypothetical Maclaren would choose present perfect: it is the notion of a state leading up to a present time "It has been my intention since I formed the band until now" → "It had been his intention from when he started the band until that time."

  • so it does not imply that one event came first both happened at the same time
    – Yves Lefol
    Aug 8, 2021 at 21:14

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