This is an excerpt from "The Moon and Sixpence", by W Somerset Maugham, the very beginning of chapter 18:

had this in my workbook as an example of a specific use of past perfect (the use i was to figure out myself, to no avail though)——so what's the function of past perfect here?

In point of fact, I met Strickland before I had been a fortnight in Paris. I quickly found myself a tiny apartment on the fifth floor of a house in the Rue des Dames, and for a couple of hundred francs bought <...>

it's clearly not an indication of being a fortnight in Paris preceding meeting strickland (or vice versa), or any other use i can find in reference books.

anyway, what troubles me most in the use of simple past in the main clause,—doesn't it contravene the alignment-in-time aspect of the past perfect used in the adverbial clause? why isn't preterite used? or perhaps why isn't it the main clause that's in the perfect aspect (in theory i mean, leaving authorial will out)?

  • 1
    Please start your sentences with a capital letter. Jun 1, 2023 at 8:04

2 Answers 2


The met in the main clause is correct, because the author is pointing to a past event from present perspective. That event happened at a time defined by the when clause. There was a point in time when I had been a fortnight in Paris. The phrase uses a reference to a point in time, to indicate all the time after my arrival in Paris (that part is implied), but less than one fortnight after. During that 2-week interval, I met Strickland.
You can't use simple past in that clause; you are referring to a further past from the indicated past point.


It means meeting Strickland precedes being in Paris a fortnight.

Here, "had been" is the past form of the present perfect "have been". To understand the logic, imagine telling this same story on the same day you met Strickland. It would read something like this:

I met Strickland today, and I haven't been a fortnight in Paris yet.

Now, if you tell it months later, you have to shift "haven't been" to "hadn't been":

I met Strickland a few months ago, when I hadn't been a fortnight in Paris yet.

The original sentence is just a different way to phrase this last sentence.

  • That's right. The so-called "past perfect" acts as a past of both the present perfect and the simple past. Usually it is not perfect, but just a "past in the past". In this case it is a "perfect in the past".
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 1, 2023 at 9:36

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