Look at this text please:

Eventually, I lowered the window of the car and he said "Could you help me?"

I took the risk. He explained that while he was driving he had had a terrible argument and had decided to get out of the car.

I understand both past perfect: The man explained something that had happened before he lowered the window. But why "was driving"? This action is also "past of the past", even it was not finished at the time of explaining. He was not driving, because he was out of the car.

  • Where did you find this text?
    – user11470
    Feb 10, 2015 at 11:51
  • I really don't get why you should be confused of such use of tense. And @Humbulani is correct. Not only is it most appreciable to cite even the smallest piece of text but doing so is just abiding the all famous "details, please" issue.
    – M.A.R.
    Feb 10, 2015 at 11:56

1 Answer 1


The use of the word "while" is key here.

The man's explanation can be translated as:

During the period when he was driving he had an argument. After the argument he had gotten out of his car.

As the man's explanation is being related by someone else (the person who "lowered the window") the man's explanation itself is in the past. Therefore his explanation becomes the pluperfect tense (past of the past).

The use of the word "driving" may appear confusing, but it is useful to convey that the actions of driving and arguing were, in fact, simultaneous.

  • I don't understand. Why didn't he backshift "while he was driving" to "while he had been driving".. Feb 10, 2015 at 14:41
  • @CopperKettle that would be a more correct way to put it, I suppose
    – Stumbler
    Feb 10, 2015 at 15:49
  • There is no need to backshift the time clause if the main clause is already backshifted .
    – Yves Lefol
    Feb 12, 2015 at 9:31

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