Do we need to use Past Simple or Past Perfect in this case if 'needing' and 'agreeing' happened first?

First, we met at a rehearsal in the city. Our team (had) needed a singer, and she (had) agreed to help.

I don't know why, but Past Perfect just doesn't sound right with 'need'. I can't explain it. Can anyone?

  • 1
    Syntactically and logically, you could could use Past Perfect (had needed, had agreed) for either, both, or neither of the two verbs referring to before the rehearsal meeting. But idiomatically native speakers would normally only use the Perfect for the act of agreeing, here. As a general principle, we avoid using the Perfect repeatedly, so the most common version here would be Our team needed a singer, and she had agreed to help. Aug 25, 2021 at 11:23
  • @FumbleFingers thank you. Does it apply to both AmE and BrE?
    – i_yre_b
    Aug 29, 2021 at 16:41
  • If you want to stress that her agreeing to help you preceded your needing her, use the PP. It's all about what you want to say and not the grammar. Yes, it is the same in BrE and AmE in this regard.
    – Lambie
    Aug 29, 2021 at 16:42
  • @Lambie thank you. Does it mean that in the sentence, 'Our team needed a singer, and she had agreed to help', she first agreed, and then we needed her?
    – i_yre_b
    Aug 29, 2021 at 16:47
  • It's ridiculously unlikely that she agreed to help before you (knew that you) needed help (or you would need help later). Logically, you became aware of the need for help, after which she agreed to provide that help. But the focus of the narrative is the meeting, which obviously must be some time after becoming aware of the need, and her agreeing to help. Note that the Past Perfect isn't being used here to inform the audience of the sequence of events (which is obvious). It's just there to separate off that past agreement from the "current" narrative reference time (of meeting) Aug 29, 2021 at 16:55

1 Answer 1


When telling a story, even a brief anecdote, the simple past is the time of the story itself, and past perfect is what happened before the main story line to give context to the simple past sentences.

That said, while telling one story, especially in conversation, it's quite natural to skip backwards and tell a story that happened before that one in the simple past. It would be correct to tell the whole story in past perfect, but would quickly become awkward and stilted sounding, so we usually switch to just simple past if it's more than one clause.

In your case, any mix of simple past and past perfect would sound natural, other than using two past perfects, which would still be grammatical.

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