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  1. "The police said he used to abuse the girl after everybody had left the school in the evenings."

Today in the newspaper, I read this line. I am unable to understand the use of "had" in the above sentence. Reporter wants to tell routine and repetitive action in the past. "Had" is use to describe past of past. If he wants to tell about repetitive action, then I think the sentence should be like this:

  1. "The police said he used to abuse the girl after everybody left the school in the evenings."

Please correct me if I am wrong.

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  • It seems to me that you are right.
    – user132181
    Sep 16 '14 at 19:25
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The past perfect tense usage "had left" is used to order events in the past. The abuse of the girl and the act of everyone leaving the school are two separate past events. The past perfect usage orders these past events so it is clear the abuse happened after everyone left the school, but before the present moment (because it is still past tense).

This ordering of events doesn't change with a repetitive action. Even though the abuse happened on multiple days, each time it occurred was after everyone had left the school. The routine of the action doesn't change the required tense.

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  1. "The police said he used to abuse the girl after everybody had left the school in the evenings."

  2. "The police said he used to abuse the girl after everybody left the school in the evenings."

Here's some related info from the 2002 CGEL, page 147:

5.5. Omissibility of the perfect

Under certain conditions the perfect may be omitted with little or no effect on the temporal interpretation. The construction to be considered here has the perfect in a subordinate clause following such prepositions as after, as soon as, or before:

[17]

  • i. She left [ after | as soon as | before ] he had spoken to her. -- [perfect]

  • ii. She left [ after | as soon as | before ] he spoke to her. -- [non-perfect]

And so, it seems that both of your versions (#1 and #2) are reasonable.

NOTE: The 2002 CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL).

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