He went out before he had completed the sentence.

M. Swan says that the using of the past perfect expresses the idea of completion. Is the past perfect common for such past-completion cases? Can we use another tense to express a similar idea?

  • @snailboat Why do you replace my the to your a? Could you explain? Sep 15 '14 at 6:18
  • 1
    We typically say the same idea (specific) but a similar idea (nonspecific). It's possible for similar idea to be specific under unusual circumstances, though, if the listener knows which similar idea you're talking about.
    – user230
    Sep 15 '14 at 6:20

The past perfect tense is useful for telling a story that is entirely in the past tense. Everything has already happened, but you still want to be clear about the order in which it happened. In the given example two things happened.

Event 1: He went out.

Event 2: He completed the sentence.

The second event above uses past perfect because you wish to relate the times of the event using the preposition "before."

Discussing completion of events/tasks/etc. in past perfect is neither common or uncommon. You could use a different tense, but it would mean something different. Or at least share the same idea in a different way. So it would be a "similar idea."

  • In that case it's not clear is He had gone out before he completed the sentence makes a sense? Sep 17 '14 at 3:08
  • Correct. This makes sense. Now the completion of the sentence is the main event in the past, and his leaving is told relative to that. Sep 17 '14 at 4:34

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