In a piece of fiction that I am writing, I used this sentence:

The piece of parchment was inked with the emblem.

This line is intended to convey that the parchment has an inked emblem on it. However, this line can have two meanings: the first is that the parchment was inked at that time by an outside force (a person or thing that actively did something at the specific moment), and the second is that the parchment had been inked, but the action had been completed prior to the moment in question (the person or thing that had been responsible for the action had finished said action a while ago).

Because of this, is it more appropriate to write the past perfect version?:

The piece of parchment had been inked with the emblem.

Or are they both equally valid? I have seen similar examples in other pieces of professional writing, but I would think that there's room for misunderstanding.

  • I would think that context would usually make it clear. For example, if you wrote "He examined the ancient scroll. The parchment was inked with (etc.)" it's pretty obvious that you don't mean the passive voice.
    – stangdon
    Sep 18, 2021 at 18:13
  • So the only distinction is context? Is there no hard rule around this? I assumed that maybe the simple-past passive construction was a wide-spread error that I'd adopted from reading.
    – MJ Ada
    Sep 18, 2021 at 18:17
  • A "seal" would usually be impressed in wax, rather than inked.
    – James K
    Sep 18, 2021 at 18:26
  • Also, have you checked the definition of the word honorary? Sep 18, 2021 at 18:27
  • Both valid points. I should have checked.
    – MJ Ada
    Sep 18, 2021 at 18:31

1 Answer 1


I would use stamped rather than inked, but I think you can use either tense without ambiguity. Unless the context suggested it, the reader would not assume that the stamping was taking place at that moment.

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