# Before the past perfect/past simple

1 Steve went to work before he had finished reading the article.

2 Steve went to work before he finished reading the article.

3 The bell rang before we had finished our work.

4 The bell rang before we finished our work.

Do they mean the same?

Sentence 1 means Steve didn't finish the article. He went to work (instead).

Sentence 2 is ambiguous, and can either mean the same as Sentence 1, or it can mean Steve went to work and finished the article later, presumably after work, or even at work, depending on how "went to work" is understood.

Sentences 3 and 4 have the same meanings as Sentences 1 and 2.

I've decided to answer my question.

The four sentences can be recast into these:

When Steve went to work he had not finished reading the article.
When Steve went to work he finished reading the article.
When the bell rang we had not finished our work.
When the bell rang we finished our work.

1 and 3 mean that the action wasn't finished.

2 and 4 mean that the action was finished after the other action took place.

• I've only glanced at one item above, but your assertion Sentence 2 can be recast into: When Steve went to work he finished reading the article looks highly suspect to me. For all we know, Steve might never finish reading the article - all we know for sure is he'd started (but not finished) reading it before he went to work. Probably on a single occasion, but in principle a repeated activity: Steve always started to read the lead article in his newspaper while he drank his coffee, but he never read right to the end. He always went to work before he finished reading the article. Nov 23, 2022 at 13:36
• In practice, (3) and (4) probably mean the same (it depends on context - did the workers have to stop when the bell rang, or did they have to finish the task?). (2) is ambiguous - did Steve take the article to work and finish reading it there, or did he wait until he came home again? Nov 23, 2022 at 13:37
• FumbleFingers, I am not following your logic. I can say "Steve always started to read the lead article in his newspaper while he drank his coffee, but he never read right to the end while drinking coffee. He always went to work before he finished reading the article and finished reading it at work." Nov 23, 2022 at 15:36
• Kate Bunting, I am not a native speaker. I don't know. I know that in one grammar it is written that past perfect shows that the action wasn't completed. "The bell rang before we had finished our work. = When the bell rang, we had not finished our work." But what's the point in emphasizing this nuance if the past simple conveys the same idea? The grammar is by Hornbee. Nov 23, 2022 at 15:41