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She came in before I had had a chance to hide.

In this sentence, past perfect is not used to describe the action which happened earlier.

So, how can past perfect be used like this in a sentence ?

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  • But surely my chance of hiding must have preceded her arrival?
    – mdewey
    Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 17:23

2 Answers 2

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The event described in the sentence is "She came in" and the time of the sentence is "the time when she came in" (and this is in the past).

The time of "a chance to hide" precedes the time of the sentence. The sentence states that this didn't happen (because she came in too soon) but nevertheless, the only time that this could happen is prior to the time when she came in. This justifies the use of the past perfect.

Consider describing the situation in the moment of the sentence:

The woman comes in and the other person hasn't had a chance to hide.

Note my use of the present perfect "hasn't had" in the second half. When this is retold in past tense narrative:

The woman came in and the other person hadn't had a chance to hide.

You can see the past perfect. From here we can develop the sense to your example

THe woman came in before the other person had had a chance to hide.

So. "No" The past perfect can't be use for an event that happens later, but it can be used for an event that didn't happen earlier.

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  • She came in before I had had a chance to hide. =

  • I had not had a chance to hide before she came in.

Same thing. Using the verb in the negative.

The action of hiding would have preceded the action of coming in had the action of hiding occurred.

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