What are the real rules for choosing past perfect versus choosing past simple when you have two different past actions?
I ask because the English sequence of tenses rules I was taught would have made me choose different tenses than those the writers in all three examples I show below chose.
That makes me think I wasn’t taught the correct, or at least the complete, rules.
What are they really, and why?
Why is past perfect used here for the second verb instead of past simple again like the first one?
- They soothed him with hugs and the first kind words he had heard since the beginning of his chastisement.
Why is it had heard instead of simply heard, like this?
- They soothed him with hugs and the first kind words he heard since the beginning of his chastisement.
Is the second version also right?
Why are both verbs in the second sentence in past simple instead of the first one of them being in past perfect to show that it (had?) happened first?
- We played tennis yesterday. Half an hour after we began playing, it started to rain.
Wouldn’t it be correct to use after we had begun playing here, like this?
- We played tennis yesterday. Half an hour after we had begun playing, it started to rain.
Is the second version also right?
Here again, why is the first verb in past perfect instead of in past simple like the second one?
- One of the young men who had been injured in an attack on our supply lines was a laborer on the construction site.
Why not use this version instead?
- One of the young men who were injured in an attack on our supply lines was a laborer on the construction site.
Is the second version also right? What about this one?
- One of the young men who were injured in an attack on our supply lines had been a laborer on the construction site.
If the originals are all perfectly right, then are my proposals also right or are they wrong? Could they ever be right?
Could the originals ever be wrong? How do you decide which to use?
Do they mean different things to a native speaker?
It’s quite hard to say in any particular case that it’s wrong to use the past simple rather than the past perfect. For cases (1) and (2), I would say that the tenses the writers chose are the most likely tenses for native English speakers to use. For (3), we simply don’t have enough information to decide one way or the other.
The hugs were after the beginning of his confinement, and the verb had heard acquires the entire time frame of his confinement from the since, so the time frame of the verb had heard is before the hugs. Here, the order of events is different from the order they occur in the sentence, so we are likely to use the past perfect.
We usually don’t use the past perfect if the order of the verbs is clear. Here, the verbs occur in the sentence in the same order that they happen (if this isn’t the case, it’s a trigger for using the past perfect), and there’s also the preposition after in the sentence, so the order of events is perfectly clear, so the past perfect is optional here. You could use it, but most native English speakers wouldn’t.
There are two events here, and if I ignore the tenses in the sentence, the order of these events isn’t at all clear. I would infer from the tenses in the sentence that he either started or resumed his work at the construction site after he was injured in the attack. If he first worked at the construction site, and then was injured in the attack severely enough that he couldn’t work, I would consider the writer’s verb tenses to be wrong.