They hadn't finished playing by 18.00.

They didn't finish playing by 18.00.

I have my own explanation what the difference is between past perfect and simple past when we use the tenses in such context. Could you please agree or disagree with it with your argumentation?

Past perfect helps us to say that 'they' have not finished their game yet and we need to wait (for example) if we want to speak with the players. Past simple doesn't give us any information about the future actions. We don't know if the game was going after 18.00 or not. For example, the game was interrupted with an important phone call or their free time was over. Right?

  • 1
    True "Simple Past" would be They finished playing by 1800, but English requires "do-support" to express that in the negative. Putting that aside, your distinction looks spurious to me. To the extent there's a difference, the Past Perfect version simply reports that they were still playing at 1800 (which time is probably the "narrative reference time" of the context within which it occurs). The "Simple Past with do-support" version strongly implies hat they were supposed to have finished by then (but the surrounding context might not be 1800 anyway; the main point is they "overran"). Jun 11, 2023 at 17:01
  • Bear in mind that "18.00" is not an English time. Do you mean six o’clock in the evening? You should write that as 6pm, although train schedules and such would use "18:00". But we do not write it like dollars and cents in America; it looks wrong, so use a colon.
    – tchrist
    Jun 11, 2023 at 23:22
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    The only context where I can see 'They didn't finish playing by 18:00 / 6 pm / six' sounding natural is to refute a firmly stated ''They finished playing by 18:00 / 6 pm / six' ... and didn't would be emphasised. Jun 12, 2023 at 9:48
  • @EdwinAshworth, Does a sentence "They didn't finish playing." also sound as a contradiction or it makes sense by itself.
    – Sergei
    Jun 12, 2023 at 12:53
  • I'd expect a 'before ...' or 'even when ...' clause to follow. // You require << Does the sentence "They didn't finish playing" also sound to be a contradiction or does it make sense by itself? >> // I didn't mention a contradiction; 'They didn't finish playing by 6 o'clock' sounds unnatural without context –'They hadn't finished playing by 6 o'clock' is more idiomatic. Jun 12, 2023 at 13:41

1 Answer 1


Without any wider context, the first sentence is the past form of the present perfect, "They haven't finished playing", with the addition of the time at that moment, "by 18:00". This sentence means that at the time 18:00, they were still playing.

The second sentence is a simple account of something that didn't happen. They may have finished playing later, or they may never have played at all. The "by" suggests they did start playing, but it's not clear. This sentence makes sense in a context where only the fact of them finishing at a certain time is important:

Your team didn't finish playing by 18:00 as we agreed to, so I have charged you for an extra hour.

  • What do you mean by "... or they may never have played at all." and "The "by" suggests they did start playing, but it's not clear."?
    – Sergei
    Jun 13, 2023 at 10:33
  • Some native speakers say that "They didn't finish playing by/at 18.00" is a natural way of contradiction if someone said "They finished playing by/at 6 pm."
    – Sergei
    Jun 13, 2023 at 10:38
  • 1
    I could say, "I know they didn't finish playing by 18:00 because they never played at all." It's a bit odd, but it could make sense. Your second sentence would likely mean the same as the first sentence though. The first is the natural way to express that they continued playing past 18:00.
    – gotube
    Jun 13, 2023 at 17:14

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