How to determine what to use in a sentence: Past Simple or Past Perfect?

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How to determine what to use in a sentence: Past Simple or Past Perfect?
How to determine what to use in a sentence: Past Simple or Past Perfect?

No matter how many times at school they explain how the simple past is different from the perfect past, you can understand this only by feeling the subtleties yourself. With experience and the use of linguistic intuition, you will soon be able to determine for yourself whether to insert Past Simple or Past Perfect into a sentence, or maybe all at once. So, first you should deal with all tenses, so that later you can proceed to these two in more detail.

English tenses

In this article, attention should also be paid to other tenses in order to clarify the general situation. As in Russian, English has three tenses: Present, Past and Future, and Simple, Continuous, Perfect and Perfect Continuous are the so-called states of these tenses. It turns out that there are only twelve tenses, not counting the constructions to be going to and Future-in-the-Past.

Description of tenses in English

May sound complicated, but it's not really. After all, speaking Russian, we, without noticing it ourselves, can use verbs in a variety of complex tenses, it’s just that in English we are more carefulstudy this rule. Below is a brief description of the meanings of these times.

Past Perfect - verbs and actions set in this tense happened and ended before everyone else.

Past Perfect Continuous - in this case, the event began in the distant past. It lasted for some time and ended in the past and brought results.

Past Continuous - the event lasted for some specific time.

Past Simple - event happened.

Present Perfect - the event has just ended. And it brought results.

Present Perfect Continuous - the event started in the past. And it just ended.

Present Continuous - the event is happening right now.

Present Simple - event happens.

Future Perfect - the event will end. And will have results in the future.

Future Perfect Continuous - the event will occur at some point and end, leaving the result.

Future Continuous - the event will take place at some point in the future.

Future Simple - event will happen.

Past Simple or Past Perfect in English

What is the difference between these two past tenses? To understand, we must refer to the direct translation of their names. If with the past Simple, that is, simple, everything is more or less clear: this is some action that occurred in the past, without any precise indication of its duration and result, then with Perfect it is a little more complicated. Perfect is translated as "perfect", that is, it means an action that exactly ended in the past and hasresult. The past perfect tense can be called the oldest compared to others, so if you see that there are two verbs in one sentence, and one of them completed the indicated action earlier than the other, then feel free to put it in the Past Perfect form.

Explanation of Past Perfect Tense

Rules and examples

The two tenses also differ grammatically. The verb used in the Past Simple must always be in the second form. The second form of verbs is a rather complicated topic, since there are two types of verbs: regular and irregular. When putting the correct ones in the second and third forms, always just add the ending -ed to them. But with the wrong ones, everything is a little more difficult. Their second and third forms may differ both from regular verbs and from each other. No rules will help here, you just need to remember.

Explanation of Past Simple Tense

He stopped smoke. - He became a singer.

He had stopped smoke twenty years ago. - He had become a singer long time ago.

In order to use the verb in the Past Perfect correctly, you need not only put it in the third form, but also always add the auxiliary verb had, regardless of gender and number.

How to understand whether it is necessary to put the verb in the Past Simple or Past Perfect form? This must be understood in context. The simple past tense is almost always used, especially when there are no demonstrative words:

I made her a present. I didn't mean to hurt you!

Past perfect tense is used the samein two similar cases:

Tom came when Lisa had already cooked a meal. He had left before she felt asleep. - An action in the past perfect tense obviously happened earlier than the simple past. You can also observe the result of the action: Tom has arrived, and the food is already ready.

He saw many pieces of glass - someone had broken the window. - In this case, the result of the action and its consequences are more clearly observed.

Thus, in order to determine in which case to put the Past Perfect, you need to know exactly the meaning of the sentence you want to say, while paying attention to the pointer words of the time you need, such as already, just, after or by.

Present Perfect or Past Simple? Or Past Perfect?

It is worth considering the differences between the use of Present Perfect and Past Simple in sentences, and how the past perfect differs from the past perfect.

The main feature of the present perfect tense: the action has just happened and has a result. Unlike the Past Perfect, very little time has passed since the action in the Present Perfect:

Jerald had built his home ten years ago. - I have finished my essay yet.

explanation of Present Perfect Tense

But since Past Perfect is the earliest time, and both Past Simple and Present Perfect occur later than it, how to distinguish between them? Very simple, you need to look again at the pointer words, the context and the presence of the result in the present perfect tense:

Mabel washed dishes yesterday. - Mabel has just washeddishes.

Also, when using the Present Perfect in speech, it is worth remembering that such a unique construction is appropriate:

I have never been in America yet. She has never had a real birthday party. - That is, someone has not yet performed some action.

Again, the difference can mostly only be felt by grasping the subtleties of the meaning of your sentence.

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