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You replied quite late. I had assumed you were dead.

I have heard that two past tenses shouldn't be used in a sentence. What's the rule regarding that? Please clarify.

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See this.

Note the pluperfect form. To quote from the definition of pluperfect makes what's going on here clear:

The pluperfect is a type of verb form, traditionally treated as one of the tenses of certain languages, used in referring to something that occurred earlier than the time being considered, when the time being considered is already in the past.

In your example, the speaker is referring to a time in the past when they assumed that the person in question was dead. Maybe their assumptions changed, maybe they're just discussing a past event. An example to clarify:

Jim and Sally were discussing the terrifying event. Sally said "It was dark, I was scarred, so scarred. I lost you, and you never came looking for me." Jim replied "I'm so sorry, I had assumed you were dead."

As opposed to:

Jim and Sally were running through the thick night away from the angry mob. Suddenly they stumbled, and Sally fell away into the dark. Jim waited to hear some sign of where she had gone, but there was nothing. He got to his feet and continued running, fighting back tears because he assumed she was dead.

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  • How will this look like: "fighting back tears because he had assumed she was dead." Is this correct? – Aquarius_Girl Jun 26 '15 at 7:51
  • @TheIndependentAquarius No, it wouldn't be correct if the events were being told in a present tense. The context of the second example is that events are being described as they happen, in a present form. If I modified the second example to say "because in that moment, he had assumed", then it might be acceptable because I'm referring to a moment that is past, even though very very recently past. – user20827 Jun 26 '15 at 8:06
  • That's why I provided the two different examples. They contrast the same events being described in past tense and present tense, where you can see the effect this has on use of "had assumed" and "assumed". – user20827 Jun 26 '15 at 8:09
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See this link: http://esl.fis.edu/grammar/rules/pastperf.htm

There are many examples similar to your example. Had is the past perfect and then you have a past tense such as assumed.

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You are not using two tenses, you are using one tense, specifically the past perfect subjunctive. This is used when expressing an unreal past event and takes the form:

had + past participle

The cause of the confusion in your case may be because the past perfect subjunctive has the same form as the past perfect in English.

Source

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