I am learning English and I have got a question about past perfect tense. In textbooks it is said that this tense is used to describe a sequence of events, to emphasise that one event happened before another.

But I faced out a sentence which uses past perfect tense without the sequence. The sentence is: 'The traffic sign had been replaced'. There is no following event here. Why was not it said: 'The traffic sign was replaced'?

As I understand, such construction is used to show an emotion, like 'Oh my gosh, they have finally done it'

Am I correct?

And how often the PP tense is used in such a way?

Thank you

  • 1
    There must be some context. Unless this just an example sentence from a dictionary, there has to be some story surrounding it. There's no justification for using the past perfect; it doesn't show emotion.
    – James K
    Commented May 24, 2023 at 20:11
  • Past Perfect is sometimes used in the context of a sequence of events, but that's not a very useful way to look at it. Past Perfect is used if the narrative focus of an utterance / conversation (which may not even involve "events") is already in the past, and you want to refer to something earlier. Commented May 24, 2023 at 22:41

1 Answer 1


The traffic sign was replaced - workmen came along, took down the old sign and installed a new one.

The traffic sign had been replaced - the person telling the story noticed that there was a different sign there. They didn't see the workmen doing it, only that someone had replaced the old one.

Emotion doesn't come into it, just the fact that the work was done before the time referred to in the sentence.

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