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I came across this sentence below and I reckon something is wrong with this sentence that I underlined the certain part. Because using "past simple tense + before + past perfect tense" pattern does not make sense as far as I know.(source)

I got so bored with what he was saying that in actual fact I dozed off before he'd finished speaking.

Shouldn't it be

I got so bored with what he was saying that in actual fact I had dozed off before he finished speaking.

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4 Answers 4

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The magic word is "before".

It started to rain so we left before the game began. (OK)

It started to rain so we left before the game had begun. (OK)

It started to rain so we left when the game had begun. (NOT OK)

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  • I arrived when he had left. must be wrong then?
    – user1425
    Nov 25, 2022 at 5:38
  • I arrived after he had left. He had already left when I arrived.
    – TimR
    Nov 26, 2022 at 12:43
  • With "I arrived when ..." the complement to when must refer semantically to a coeval event. I arrived at the theater when the lights were dimming. The complement of when, when the when-phrase refers to a point or span of time, cannot refer to something that has already happened. The past perfect refers to something that has already happened as of the reference time.
    – TimR
    Nov 26, 2022 at 12:59
  • I see. So "When I arrived, he had (already) left" is correct.
    – user1425
    Nov 26, 2022 at 13:09
  • I would prefer to use "idiomatic/unidiomatic" instead of "correct/incorrect". If the goal is to speak like "mainstream" native speakers (avoiding regionalisms and sociolects) then the past perfect in this example, without a temporal adverb such as after or already, sounds unnatural although is not outright ungrammatical or "incorrect". The issue here is complicated by telicity. As I arrived is not the same as When I arrived . As I arrived = when I was arriving (but had not yet completed my arrival, had not yet fully arrived).
    – TimR
    Nov 28, 2022 at 12:44
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There are three phrases here:

I got so bored with what he was saying (past tense)

then

that [in actual fact] I dozed off (past tense)

then

before he'd finished speaking (past perfect).

In the last phrase, past perfect is OK because that action (speaking) was in progress when you dozed off.

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It might be easier to bring this into present tenses first, in order to look at it.

I doze off before he's finished speaking.

or

Before he has finished speaking, I doze off.

This does not mean that finished speaking happens first, and then the speaker dozes off. It means that the speaker dozes off while the other person is still speaking, specifically, before he has finished speaking. The adverbial before is a "big hint" here. If the adverbial were after, then yes, the finished speaking happens first in its entirety before the speaker dozes off.

It works the same way in the past:

Before he had finished speaking, I dozed off.

It means that the speaker dozed off while the other person was still speaking, specifically, before he had finished speaking

After he had finished speaking, I dozed off.

The finished speaking had been completed, then I dozed off.

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If you want to use the past perfect for the action happened earlier, the following sentence is grammatically correct:

I had dozed off before he finished speaking.

But I think as the conjunction "before" already tells you about which action happened earlier, there is no need to use the past perfect in the sentence unless you want to emphasize the first action. To me, the use of the past simple in both the clauses sounds more natural and easy on the ear. Look at the following sentence and find how you feel it.

I dozed off before he finished speaking.

As for the sentence under discussion, that is, "I dozed off before he had finished speaking", it's more natural and grammatically correct. As a matter of fact, according to grammar, you can use the past simple in the main clause and the past perfect or the past simple in the subordinade before-clause. There is no difference in meaning. So the following sentences are more common and correct grammatically:

I dozed off before he finished speaking.

I dozed off before he had finished speaking.

Source: John Eastwood Oxford Practice Grammar (Chapter 19, Review of the past simple, continuous and perfect).

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