The optional usage of the Past Perfect Tense when there are “time words” is well-known: He ate his lunch after his wife came/had come home from her shopping. However, the semantic differences in the usage of the Past Simple and the Past Perfect remain. The Past Simple Tense can be intentionally used to emphasize that actions follow each other immediately, and the Past Perfect focuses on some interval between the actions: 1) When the guest of honour had arrived, the speeches began (somewhat later); 2) When the guest of honour arrived, the speeches began (right away).

The Past Simple can be used to describe a short-time action, while the Past Perfect can indicate that the action lasted for some longer time: 1) When I put the cat out, it ran into the bushes; 2) When I had washed the cat, it ran into the bushes.

When the choice is to be made between the Past Simple and the Past Perfect in similar cases, British speakers may prefer the Past Perfect, while the American speakers give preference to the Past Simple.

The finishing touch: the Past Perfect can go together with the Present Simple if utterance contains a moment in the past preceded by another past action (even if this moment in the past is only implied): I hope John had left the house by five o’clock; OR: Mary is sad because Jim had beaten John.


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