Someone had asked whether this sentence was right: I had eaten lunch before I watched TV.
Then a second person had answered, “You don’t need the word had. Change it to, I ate lunch before I watched TV”.
Then I piped up: Pardon, but suppose I’m referring to a past event for which I needed to go out immediately and say, “I had eaten lunch before I watched TV. So, I just ran out”. Does that make sense?
First that second person (who later I found out was a native) replied: No , you would say,I already ate lunch so I rushed out the door.
But then agreed :Yes, your statement is correct also I just reread it.
So, now I want someone to clear up whether it’s a matter of formality and informality, something like the French use of past perfect for simple past, or of correct vs. incorrect, or something?
Especially after seeing the example in Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English: ‘Fancy a coffee?’ ‘No thanks, I already have one.’
The purpose of the past perfect / pluperfect is to sequence actions in the past tense. In cases when the sequence is not ambiguous, the use of past perfect can be optional. When it is optional, it might sound a little more formal.
I ate lunch before I watched TV.
I had eaten lunch before I watched TV
Both of these are correct and mean about the same thing. The before takes care of the sequencing of the past verbs, so the past perfect doesn’t really add clarity. A better construction to demonstrate the past perfect is with a when.
I had eaten lunch when I walked to the park.
I ate lunch when I walked to the park.
In the first example, lunch was clearly before the walk. In the second, lunch was during the walk.
Subordinate clauses sometime illustrate the difference. Consider these nominal clauses:
The way the children laughed brought a smile to her face.
The way the children had laughed brought a smile to her face.
In the first sentence, the laughter and the smile are at the same time. In the second sentence, the smile was the result of her remembering the past laughter.
… or of correct vs. incorrect, or something?
‘Something’ is the answer. And that ‘something’ is just plain what you want the other person to think.
If you want to help the police investigate a break-in, then you want to give them all the events- lunch, TV, going out, and whatever else. Otherwise you cannot have more than 2 events in 1 sentence, or 1 group of sentences meant to be related – that will make it too confusing.
‘I had eaten lunch before I watched TV’ — This one says if you think I forgot lunch because I am so hooked on TV, you are wrong.
‘I ate lunch before I watched TV’ — This one is good to throw off the listener because it will make him wonder what is the relationship between lunch and TV?
‘I had eaten lunch before I watched TV. So, I just ran out’ — This one is confusing, makes the listener wonder what is TV doing in there ?
‘I already ate lunch so I rushed out the door’ – This says I usually stay only long enough to get the free lunch; today I scram.
‘Fancy a coffee?’ ‘No thanks, I already have one.’ — This one is perfect communication; the ‘already’ emphasizes another coffee is unwanted.
This might sound like I am kidding around; be assured- I am completely serious.
Raffee said … I had eaten lunch before I watched TV… someone to clear up whether it’s a matter of formality and informality, something like the French use of past perfect for simple past, or of correct vs. incorrect, or something?
The ‘tense’ serves functions other than what’s said in the grammar book- more than just sequencing events over time. Look at this (most ordinary) construction:
‘Almost three months had passed since she had come to the camp, and all during that time she had been drilled from morning until night.’
By strict logic, you can substitute the simple past ‘came to the camp’ without the meaning being changed, not by a scintilla. But will you? ‘had come’ seems needed for emphasis- how long it had been since the event.
Similarly, in the example below, ‘had’ seems to say ‘a long time ago’; you wouldn’t want to omit it, even though logic says you can:
‘On the morning of Jon’s fifth birthday, four months after his father had died, Jon awoke vomiting’
In Raffee’s example (reproduced below) ‘had’ looks more like an emphatic device than anything else, so that it is virtually the same as did in the 2nd statement :
I had eaten lunch before I watched TV
I did eat lunch before I watched TV
Otherwise, the ‘tense’ chosen will also affect cadence, mood, qualities that appeal to the inner ears.
Robert, our opinions seem to be similar (or maybe I couldn’t express myself at first place). What I was trying to tell the other ‘answerer’ in the original conversation was that both sentences could be correct depending on the situation:
1. When you’re telling what you did: “I ate lunch, watched TV, went out, … .”
2. When something has happened that requires you to go out immediately, and lunch is obligatory, and you’re telling what you did: “I’d already eaten lunch (there was no need to hesitate), so, I rushed out.”
And, in fact, I don’t think that the two other options (ate, have) are correct at all. But I think I know why I don’t;I’ve matched ‘already’ to an equivalent in Farsi, whose range of usage is not as wide; that is, is limited to present perfect.
Let me ask a question:
Is it correct to say, “I already ate lunch, ….” in the same situation as sentence 2? Does that imply ‘there was no need to hesitate’?
I would appreciate it if anyone explained different implications of different tenses used with ‘already’! (I’d eaten already, I ate already, I eat already). I don’t get RobertB’s point on “perfect communication” in “I already have one”. Why not, “I already had one”? I’m not questioning the way you speak, but just want to find out whether it’s one of those cases that usage deviates the rule, just like the French example I mentioned earlier,or not.
Raffee said …both sentences could be correct depending on the situation
Very true. But they can not be both good given a situation.
Raffee said … “I’d already eaten lunch (there was no need to hesitate), so, I rushed out.”…don’t think that the two other options (ate, have) are correct at all. But I think I know why I don’t;I’ve matched ‘already’ to an equivalent in Farsi, whose range of usage is not as wide; that is, is limited to present perfect.
‘already’ says it’s done by that specific time: He’s already billionaire by age 25.
‘had’ basically says the same, so I like the statement a little better without the 2 words together:
(Lunch happened any time before ‘rushed out’)
Raffee said … “I already ate lunch, ….” in the same situation as sentence 2? Does that imply ‘there was no need to hesitate’?
It surely does, pretty clearly too.
Raffee said … RobertB’s point on “perfect communication” in “I already have one”. Why not, “I already had one”?
‘I already had one’ is good because the past tense makes it Spock-logically correct.
But what if the coffee is still on the table? (The person is too eager to notice.)
In any case, the present tense ‘I already have one’ is just as good (even if coffee was finished in the past) because it doesn’t need to mean this very Spock-logical instant. (Not so in Farsi perhaps?)
Besides , it’s not so much about time as about the amount of coffee. Here’re some where ‘already’ emphasizes things , not time:
RobertB saidIn any case, the present tense ‘I already have one’ is just as good (even if coffee was finished in the past) because it doesn’t need to mean this very Spock-logical instant. (Not so in Farsi perhaps?)
RobertB saidFeed the chickens; I already milked the cows. (Tasks to do)
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