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From an episode narrated by David Attenborough.

The buds stayed dormant until spring sunshine, filtering down through the snow, triggered them into action, and they opened even before the snowy blanket above them had melted.

Why it is not simple past? As past perfect means that action happened before another action in the past.

...they opened even before the snowy blanket above them had melted.

Shouldn't it be simple past:

The buds stayed dormant until spring sunshine, filtering down through the snow, triggered them into action, and they opened even before the snowy blanket above them melted.

Please explain.

  • Past perfect is also used simply as the past version of present perfect (along with conditionals and other advanced structures). That said, consider the situation in your example : when they opened, the snow was still melting, meaning it hadn't melted (completely) yet. – Generalbrus Apr 11 '16 at 11:09
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Past perfect can be used after the conjunction before even if you clearly see tnat the action expressed by the verb in past simple took place earlier in time,when the speaker wants to emphasize the idea of completion.

He went out before I had finished my letter(before the moment he had completed writing his letter).

You can use either past simple or past perfect here, it's your choice.

The toaster went wrong before it toasted /had toasted one piece of bread.

Moreover, before is sometimes used to talk about things that don't happen because something stops them. Both usages explain our sentence.

  • "They pulled him off the stage with a shepherd's crook before he had finished his rant." youtube.com/watch?v=53VUs8dlUt4 – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 11 '16 at 11:56
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    It's the perfect that expresses the idea, so it can be expressed also with the present perfect: "They pull him off the stage before he has finished his rant." – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 11 '16 at 12:12
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"before the snowy blanket above them had melted" is better and correct. The word "before" indicates that normally the melting of snow comes first and then follows the opening of the buds.

  • I'm not sure if I can agree with your answer, but maybe it's just the way it's phrased. – Damkerng T. Apr 11 '16 at 9:37

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