An excerpt from Beginning Java Objects: From Concepts to Code by Jacquie Barker:

Your client comes to inspect the work, and he is terribly disappointed. One of the reasons he had selected blue stars as a construction material was that they are extremely energy efficient but, because you used nails and mortar to assemble the stars, they have lost a great deal of their inherent ability to insulate the home.

To compensate, your client asks you to replace all of the windows in the home with triple-pane thermal glass windows so that they will allow less heat to escape. You’re panicking at this point—swapping out the windows will require you to literally rip the walls apart, destroying the house.

When you tell your customer this, he goes ballistic! Another reason he selected blue stars as a construction material was because of their modularity, and hence ease of accommodating design changes but, because of the ineffective way you assembled these stars, they’ve lost this flexibility as well.

I absolutely have no problem understanding the first he had selected. But, why do you think in the second instance, the had has gone missing? Although I think I have, sort of, a general feeling why that might the be case, I still would like to receive a more grammatically rigorous explanation as to why this kind of thing happens when we first use the past perfect and then shift it to a simple past tense when there is a need to use the same idea again.

  • I think it's because the writer writes the entire passage by taking the same viewpoint--the time that the client comes to inspect the work. The first "he had selected" is needed because it happened before the time "you used". (And the time of "you used" was before the narrative time, which is when the client comes to inspect the work.) The second "he selected" is in the simple past because at that point of narration, there is no need to talk about things that had happened before a past event. In other words, the simple past is enough. Apr 29, 2015 at 21:02
  • 3
    Or, you could just be over-thinking it... Native speakers don't always fuss over matching cases when the cases are easily swapped. Both options broadly mean the same thing, even if your English teacher says they're different.
    – Catija
    Apr 29, 2015 at 21:07
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    Notice that the matrix verb in both examples is a preterite (i.e. past-tense verb), which in those cases is the verb "was", and so, that means that the speaker will often have the option to use backshift verbs in the subordinate clauses.
    – F.E.
    Apr 29, 2015 at 21:25

2 Answers 2


"Had selected" in the first instance pertains to something prior to the selection, namely the reason/motivation for it. That is what the past perfect tense is for. In the second instance, there was no reference to the past prior to the selection, but rather something that happened afterwards, which concerns the perceptions from the customer side.

  • I disagree - both cases are almost identical in that they both discuss "the reason/motivation" for the selection. (The first occurrence mentions energy efficiency; the second mentions modularity.) For what it's worth, I don't think this question has an authoritative answer. The author probably chose arbitrarily. May 12, 2015 at 4:32

In my opinion - "had selected" is similar to citing reason - and you may be citing reason hence forth but you may not want to stress it as much as you do it in first instance to maintain email etiquettes and not going overboard.

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