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  1. Before I met her I had a poor opinion of her.

As person had a poor opinion before a particular time in past (before He met her) so I think there should be had had.

There are some more example like this:

  1. Before I went to the university, I worked/had worked as a carpenter for 5 years.

  2. Before I opened the door, I put/had put the key in the lock.

  3. Before I opened the door, I looked/had looked carefully into the barn for snipers.

In all these sentence, for me, it should be perfect tense.

I asked that question on another platform where I was told that if sequence of past event is obvious and sentences uses "before"and "after", we often use past tense. Which means we should use past tense in all these sentences. But I have another sentence "The train had left before I reached the station." If I follow above mentioned rule there should be "left" instead of "had left". But I am damn sure this sentence is correct with "had left".

Am I correct?

Thank you

  • The Pluperfect can usually be replaced by the Simple Past Tense, such as in your examples. Why do you think there's scope for ambiguity in your last example? – userr2684291 May 3 '16 at 10:53
  • first thing there is a use of before and second sequence of past event is 100% obvious. So if we follow the rule I mentioned, it should be past tense there. – starun008 May 3 '16 at 12:04
  • Yes, so what's your question again? – userr2684291 May 3 '16 at 12:17
  • what should we use "past perfect" or "past" in this kind of sentence? – starun008 May 3 '16 at 13:19
  • 1
    Possible duplicate of When is the past perfect exactly needed? – Alan Carmack May 3 '16 at 13:54
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Past perfect tenses usually carry an implication that something has happened before or after.

I had talked to her yesterday. (before or after something else, context or previous conversation would normally fill this in)

If you explicitly state "before" or "after" then simple past will do the job fine. Including the have can still be done for a form of emphasis or to indicate that some time passed before the two events.

I talked to her before she arrived. (It's possible you mean that you talked to her and right after that, she arrive)

I had talked to her before she arrived. (You more likely mean that you talked to her, something else may have happened or a while passed, then she arrived.)

I talked to her before she had arrived. (Something else other than you talking to her occurred before or after she arrived.)

There is one situation where the use of past perfect is different and not optional: if it's not referring to an action at a specific time, which means you wouldn't be using before or after to qualify or any time expression like yesterday, etc.

In the past I talked to her (bad, should be: In the past I had talked to her).

In live speech most people don't ponder this very deeply and sometimes the line is blurred between these guidelines.

  • But what if we consider exam point of view. Then we can't go for both. We can assume the difference you mentioned in your 2 and 3 example. But if this question is asked in exam paper which scenario we should consider. Thank you – starun008 May 4 '16 at 5:29
  • "The train had left before I reached the station" - Had here is optional, not disallowed. I guess it's more correct to not use it, but it's not incorrect to have it there. The exam probably is going to say "The train left before I reached the station" is correct. – LawrenceC May 4 '16 at 13:31
  • Actually the correct answer is "The train had left before I reached the station. But for 1st sentence of my question, answer is "Before I met her I had a poor opinion of her". This make me confuse. For me it is "I had had a poor opinion". In former ( The train.....) it uses past perfect but in later (Before I met.......) it uses past tense. – starun008 May 5 '16 at 6:49

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