This is a passage from "Never finished" by David Goggins.

"I was hoping to find some answers that would help me change my life. That was what I told myself, anyway, as I crossed into Ohio from Indiana and veered northeast. I hadn't seen my old man in twelve years. It had been my decision to stop seeing him. At that time, the court system allowed children to make those decisions once they turned twelve. I made that choice mostly out of respect for and loyalty to my mom. He'd stopped beating us after we left Buffalo, but the one thing that never went numb was how I felt about what my mother endured at his hands. Still, over the years, I had questioned that decision and began to wonder if my memories, if the stories I told myself, were true."

I have two questions. (1)Why is the first sentence in bold not "He stopped beating us after we'd left Buffalo."? (2)In the second sentence in bold, why does he use past perfect for "question" and past simple for "began"? Is it different if I use past perfect or past simple for both verbs?

  • The text overuses Past Perfect already! Note that It had been my decision and I made that choice both refer to the same point in past time. It's not unreasonable to switch from Past Perfect to Simple Past in such contexts, since it's poor style to keep using Perfect verb forms in sentence after sentence. But imho the writer here could and should have applied that principle more thoroughly. In both your example sentences he switches from Past Perfect to Simple Past, but the whole paragraph keeps distractingly switching (albeit slightly "disguised", by abbreviated verb forms). Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 11:16
  • @FumbleFingers - David Goggins is an ex-US-military person who writes inspirational self-help memoirs. Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 11:42
  • Does that somehow automatically imply his writing style is beyond criticism? Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 11:52
  • As a general principle, He did it after I had done it is likely to be better than He had done it after I did it, because my action came before his. But unless surrounding text is particularly focused on the later time (when he did it), it's usually better to stick with Simple Past and forget about trying to shoehorn in a Perfect form just because two past events being reported didn't happen at the same time. Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 12:04
  • The narrative is in the past ("I crossed into Ohio"). In the narrative, he refers to events that were already in the past at the time of the narrative ("It had been my decision" - "He'd stopped beating us"). Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 12:52

1 Answer 1

  1. “He’d” is a contraction that means “he had” in the cited text.

  2. Past perfect and past simple are often interchangeable, meaning it is not different using either tense.

  • It's irrelevant and pointlessly distracting that 'd could in other circumstances be shortened from would, since that's not the case in either of the two instances in the cited text. Note that it can also be a shortened version of the Past Tense -ed for certain "unusual" verb contexts, The drug addict died when he OD'd on heroin (again, not relevant to the OP's cited usage). Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 14:07
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers fixed Commented Mar 6, 2023 at 14:18

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .