The chill air was whipping through Harry's hair, and before he'd stopped enjoying the ride, it was over.
(Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets)

The conditional clause - before he'd stopped enjoying the ride – has the perfect tense, and its main clause past one. I guess this perfect tense does not denote that conditional clause precedes the main clause in time sequence, but the tense emphasizes the completion of the conditional act. So ‘it was over’ precedes ‘before he’d stopped enjoying the ride.’ Is this right guessing?

  • 3
    Yes, the ride finished before Harry had finished enjoying the ride: he would have preferred that the ride continue for longer. It's "right guessing", but I fail to see how you can enjoy the story if you think about it in these technical grammatical terms. Makes me think of a hunter who shoots wild game for sport, pelts, and trophies, and comorbidly maintains that he's an animal lover.
    – user264
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 13:03
  • 1
    Unfortunately, I’ve not yet clambered onto a velvety grass to enjoy my reading, my back or stomach on it. I’ve read so called easy stuffs - Dear John et cetera - without much consulting dictionary or parsing, having followed the guidance just you’re saying. And I get the idea without toil I could not reach the grass. And now I slowed my face a little. I believe that to restrain my enjoying now would help my future doing so. And luckily I enjoy this turtle-pace reading.
    – Listenever
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 14:02
  • Today, Mr. StoneyB showed my own question in February: WoW! the then one who wrote the question is not the very present me. Because of you all teachers in this website have helped me climbing up the plain. And I don’t think my game is on the plain. This process is the my game, and I’m enjoying this very moments. In this point, I may be called a member of Dead Poet’s Society.
    – Listenever
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 14:03
  • Well, whatever makes you happy. I'm glad you're having fun. That's what life should be about.
    – user264
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 14:18

1 Answer 1


This is a quirky sentence, and illustrates how a capable writer exploits the imprecision of the vernacular to achieve effects which are not possible in "Standard" formal English.

Strictly speaking, the sentence should read:

Before he stopped enjoying the ride, it was over.

But JKR doesn't want to speak of Harry's enjoyment ending; she wants, rather, to give a sense of its lingering after the ride is over. She starts therefore from the opposite of what she is trying to communicate:

He had stopped enjoying the ride before it was over.

And then she negates it: not by introducing a not, but through reversing the sequence by moving the before:

Before he had stopped enjoying the ride, it was over.

I don't suggest that she thought about all this as she wrote - quite the contrary - but that this is the "logic" underlying what she has done.

  • 2
    It's definitely a "quirky" choice of verb tense. In a parallel construction using can/could, I think the corresponding "pluperfect" version would have to be Before he had been able to fasten his seat belt, the ride was over. Possible, but a bit weird. Commented May 4, 2013 at 13:52
  • Thank you for your example. I thought it would be possible, yet I didn't have the right ground to believe it would be said.
    – Listenever
    Commented May 4, 2013 at 14:15
  • @FumbleFingers I agree, and it would not be acceptable in, say, Hogwarts: A History. But it's not at all unlikely to be heard in speech, which is not so persnickety; and Harry's 'interior monologue' must be presumed to be colloquially phrased. Commented May 4, 2013 at 22:55

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