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Yesterday, when I was using a printer, it suddenly turned off in the middle of printing. I was surprised and pushed the power button many times, but it never turned on again. I realized that it had broken down. I used it for about four years.

Would it be possible to use simple past just as a simple fact? The action is finished ,not for a long time but it can belong to the past to yesterday. I know present perfect is better.

  • But in context you are also talking about now (it is still broken), so I would not use simple past. – user3169 Apr 11 '16 at 21:06
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You started with a sequence of actions in simple past, that is the way it works and thus, everything is correct as far as "had broken down", because *"I realized"** happened after its breaking down , so with "had broken down" you are going back to a previous action. what is expressed with a past perfect. If we apply this fact to "I used it" it would be the same, you are going further back from "realized" and "had broken down", consequently, it should be "had used "it.

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Can you use the simple past?

Answer: Using the simple past to state a simple fact is perfectly fine. However, what you are running afoul of is Tense Consistency. You can have multiple tenses in a single paragraph (or clause), but the time frames of those tenses should agree with each other.

Yesterday, when I was using a printer, it suddenly turned off in the middle of printing.

Here you're using the past progressive to describe an ongoing activity that was interrupted in the past. Perfectly fine.

I was surprised and pushed the power button many times, but it never turned on again.

You shift to simple past to make some statements of fact. Also fine.

I realized that it had broken down.

Now you shift into the past perfect to show that the printer, which had been working up until then, had now stopped. As the use of the printer and the event that ended its useful life both occurred in the past, using past perfect tense is perfectly fine here.

I used it for about four years.

Here's where things break down. Like the sentence before it, your use of the printer both started in the past, and ended in the past. As such, its tense should agree with the sentence before it, and thus be written as past perfect.

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