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I read this sentence:

After we had eaten lunch, we flew our kites.

I feel like this sentence has a weird structure, although it's grammatically correct.

I feel like saying this is better:

After we ate lunch, we flew our kites.

Also, it was part of an exam that the only correct answer, was the first sentence.

What do you think?

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    Either could be correct.
    – Peter
    Jun 14 at 10:04
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    There's nothing weird about these. The first is more formal, especially in written English. One could argue the second is more colloquial. Neither is wrong though
    – Billy Kerr
    Jun 14 at 10:26
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    @BillyKerr: I don't think it's anything to do with "more formal". The "informal" Past Perfect version is After we'd eaten lunch,... Which verb form to use is primarily just a stylistic choice - but regardless of whether the context is formal or informal, Past Perfect might be preferred to enhance the "narrative" aspect of the speaker's utterances (is it part of a longer description of some extended event, as opposed to simply reporting that single action?). Jun 14 at 10:38
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    It really is disgraceful how people who clearly don't know English very well get to make up their own ill-informed questions like this. Interestingly, in your specific context, the Simple Past version has in fact become by far the most common in recent decades - so if anything, that's the "better" choice. Jun 14 at 11:13
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1 Answer 1

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Either could be correct.

Which verb form to use is primarily just a stylistic choice - but regardless of whether the context is formal or informal, Past Perfect might be preferred to enhance the "narrative" aspect of the speaker's utterances (is it part of a longer description of some extended event, as opposed to simply reporting that single action?). Interestingly, in your specific context, the Simple Past version has in fact become by far the most common in recent decades - so if anything, that's the "better" choice.

You might say that the perfect is redundant because the anterior (past) meaning is conveyed by "after". Yet they both sound acceptable. I've been trying to think of how there might be a difference in meaning. For some reason, the past perfect seems to convey a slightly greater sense of "completion" of the first item. The effect is very subtle.

There is a potential subtle distinction, as alluded to in my previous comment. Basically, it's that using Past Perfect here establishes (or "reminds" us) that there's a "narrative reference time" in the past (when we were flying the kites) which the speaker is primarily interested in talking about (where the eating of lunch came before that reference time). The subtle effect is to draw the audience into casting themselves back into the time of kite-flying, which in principle might make for a better "story / narration". But it's only a "potential" distinction.

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