Which one is correct and why?

  1. I thought I understood the movie.

  2. I thought I had understood the movie.

I think second option is correct because "had" is used when we want to say that one action happened before another. Hence, first I understood it and then I thought that I understood it.

  • 2
    But you never actually did understand it. If you had understood it, you would say I understood the movie. Now that you know you didn't, you say I thought I understood the movie. Both of those things happened at the exact same time; you're referring to the same moment. Except in one case you later find out you didn't understand. Only one event is occurring.
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Jul 29, 2013 at 16:10
  • As is constantly being pointed out here on ELL, you don't want to go looking for chances to use Past Perfect. Only bother with it if you really need it, which isn't the case here. Commented Jul 30, 2013 at 0:33
  • @WendiKidd but before he found out he didn't understand the movie, he would have said 'I understood the movie'. Hence, he needs to have come to the 'didn't understand it' point in time in order to realise he only thought he understood it earlier, and therefore this point in time occurred later than (falsely) understanding it.
    – mcalex
    Commented Jul 30, 2013 at 18:25

1 Answer 1


I thought I understood the movie.

This statement can be interpreted in two ways. Both of these occur after you have watched the movie. If taken literally, you sincerely believe that you understood the movie. However, if a certain emphasis is put on "thought," this statement can be taken as your bemusement to your false interpretation of the movie before a revelation.

I thought I had understood the movie.

This is much easier to work with as meaning is more explicit. The meaning of this statement fall in line with the second interpretation of the first statement - you thought you had understood the movie, but during the time of the statement you no longer believe that.

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