On the evening of November 8, 1923, with a coming snowfall in the air, Adolf Hitler, a thirty-four-year-old politician known for his hot rhetoric, forced his way into a crowded beer hall on the southeast side of Munich. Surrounded by three bodyguards, two of them in military gear, Hitler held a pistol in one hand. With “his eyes opened wide and looking like a drunken fanatic,” the unimposing, five-foot nine-inch Hitler tried to interrupt a speech by the head of the Bavarian government. But he could not make himself heard. Climbing onto a chair, he raised his arm and fired a shot into the high coffered ceiling. “Silence!” he shouted. The three thousand audience members fell “dead still,” one witness recalled. Then the man on the chair made a shocking announcement.

“The national revolution has begun! The building is surrounded by six hundred heavily armed men! No one is allowed to leave.” Behind Hitler, a platoon of steel-helmeted men under the command of Captain Hermann Göring dragged a heavy machine gun into the beer hall entrance.

Thus began Adolf Hitler’s infamous beer hall coup d’état of 1923. Called aputsch in German, the attempted overthrow had crumbled within seventeen hours.* *Fifteen of Hitler’s men, four police troops, and one bystander had been killed. Two days later, Hitler was caught and carried off to Landsberg Prison, thirty-eight miles west of Munich. He was imprisoned for the next thirteen months, from November 11, 1923, to December 20, 1924.

Source: 1924: The Year That Made Hitler, by Peter Ross Range (2016).

Sorry for this long excerpt but I think it is necessary given the nature of my question: again concerning the usage of the past perfect. Can you please provide me explanation why in the third paragraph this tense is used. The last sentence informs about collapsing of the nazi putsch in Munich. But the fall down of this attempt to seize the power in Bavaria came after the events that are described in the first two paragraphs. Firstly there was a putsch and only then its crumbling.

  • 1
    I reads perfectly fine. It was the end of a series of events in the past. What tense do you think it should be?
    – user3169
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 21:35
  • Simple past tense. The first was a putsch unfolded in detail in the first two paragraphs and than is shortly reffered to the result of this putsch.
    – bart-leby
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 21:41
  • 1
    I would defer to someone with more literary knowledge, but my idea is that the third paragraph is from the point of view of the present (2016) time. The relating of the actual events in the two first paragraphs is more like reported speech.
    – user3169
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 21:47
  • I personally think the 'had' is unnecessary, but it does indicate an event which started in the past and ended in the past. The sentence seems to make a break the narrative which leads up to the putsch by saying at the outset that the putsch failed - I bet that it is followed by a description of how it crumbled? I guess the author is trying to build some suspense in there, foreshadowing the crumbling of the putsch before getting into the detail.
    – nclarx
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 22:05

1 Answer 1


The key here is the "within seventeen hours", meaning "in less than seventeen hours"; the writer is saying that, less than seventeen hours after the start of the putsch, "the attempted overthrow had crumbled", etc.

Consider e.g.:

If I take a couple [of sleeping pills] now, I'll be asleep within 20 minutes. [link]

where "I'll be asleep" (in the plain future) means "I'll have fallen asleep" (in the future perfect): asleep is what you are when you've fallen asleep. The speaker is not merely saying that he'll fall asleep, but emphasizing the speed by saying that he'll have already fallen asleep in less than twenty minutes. (In this respect, it can be misleading to think of the perfect forms as separate tenses; they're sometimes used in tense-like ways, but that's not the whole story.)

Your example is analogous; the author is emphasizing how quickly the putsch fell apart. (The same effect could be achieved by saying, "the attempted overthrow was in pieces within seventeen hours", where being in pieces is the result of having crumbled.)

In both examples, it would be perfectly correct to describe the event instead of the resulting state, with no other changes; "I'll fall asleep within 20 minutes" would be perfectly fine, as would "the attempted overthrow crumbled within seventeen hours".

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