Consider the following three sentences:

I'd barely said my name before he slapped me.

I'd barely said my name before he had slapped me.

I'd barely said my name before he have slapped me.

Is there any difference in meaning between the three versions, with a simple past, present perfect and a past perfect ?

Secondly, does substituting before for when affect those meanings?

  • Please stick to one question per post. If you REALLY want to ask both questions, ask them separately.
    – gotube
    Aug 14 '21 at 6:14
  • 1
    @gotube I think we could extend a little bit of flexibility on the 'multiple questions' close reason. Do you really want him to post a separate question with the second part? What good does that do anybody? Surely it's just two parts of the same enquiry?
    – fred2
    Aug 15 '21 at 17:18
  • These are two unrelated questions that coincidentally use the same sentences as examples, as if the second question occurred to the OP as they were writing the first, or they crafted one example sentence that could serve to ask two unrelated questions about. The first question is about verb tenses, and the second is about conjunctions of time order, which are unrelated.
    – gotube
    Aug 15 '21 at 19:46

I'm going to give numbers to these sentences for reference.

(1) I'd barely said my name before he slapped me.

(2) I'd barely said my name before he has slapped me.

(3) I'd barely said my name before he had slapped me.

(4) I'd barely said my name when he slapped me.

(5) I'd barely said my name when he has slapped me.

(6) I'd barely said my name when he had slapped me.

Sentences (2), (5) and (6) are impossible, and there is little if any difference in meaning between (1), (3) and (4). The reason the past perfect is possible with before is that (3) brings to mind something like the creation of a new state in which he had already slapped you. Perhaps (3) evokes even more strongly than (1) and (4) the instantaneous nature of his action, as we do not, literally speaking, mention his action occurring but instead the state in which the action had already occurred.

Incidentally, one would say "replacing before with when" "changing before to when," or, perhaps less commonly, "changing before for when."


I agree with your comment. Consider:

(7) I had barely said my name before he led me to the interview room.

(8) I had barely said my name before he had led me to the interview room.

The difference here is a bit more perceptible than between (1) and (3). Sentence (8) clearly refers to the end of the process of leading you to the interview room, whereas (7) refers to the process as a whole, and the time of the "leading" action is most likely to be interpreted as the beginning of the process.

  • @GJC This is analogous to (3), which I've said is possible.
    – Anonymous
    Aug 12 '21 at 19:14
  • Apparently a potentially long action like lead someone to another room is different from a sudden like a slap forum.wordreference.com/threads/…
    – GJC
    Aug 12 '21 at 19:44
  • You should say: "substituting when for before." Also, you mean "a sudden one."
    – Anonymous
    Aug 12 '21 at 19:56
  • You substitute new parts for the old ones (but replace old ones with new ones?) en.wiktionary.org/wiki/substitute#Usage_notes
    – GJC
    Aug 12 '21 at 20:05
  • @GJC Yes, that's right. The usage note in the link shows that some people use substitute with the same meaning as replace, but then the preposition used is by or with, not for. This doesn't sound elegant to me, but according to the usage note, this use of substitute is now accepted. Before seeing the link, I'd assumed it was a mistake, which I'm sure some others do too.
    – Anonymous
    Aug 12 '21 at 20:26

Two of the three versions are possible. Both make the situation clear.

Firstly, at some point in the past, you told a man (boy?) your name. Immediately afterwards, (for whatever reason) this person slapped you.

Whether you use before or when to link the two clauses makes no difference to the meaning.

You cannot say before he have/has slapped me. That's just wrong.

It's possible to use the simple past (he slapped me) or the past perfect (he had slapped me).

The choice of tense does not affect the meaning. But the past perfect gives it a more distant feel - as though the incident took place some time ago.

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