Friday, July 31, 2015

What's the Difference Between Pluperfect and Past Perfect? (Trick Question, No Fair)

The past perfect, or pluperfect as it sometimes called, is a verb tense that is disdained by if not most modern editors, then the most modern of editors. Seriously, the hipper your editor, the less she will like the past perfect. The way to get on her bad side for good is to refer to it as the pluperfect.

The past perfect indicates an action in the past that occurred before a different past action began. The one action must have been completed before the other started. “By the time we arrived, the girls had left.” If you were to say, “By the time we arrived, the girls left,” that would be messing up the past perfect.

In writing though, imagine how tedious a lot of past perfect usages would get. We had jumped before she ran and we had run before he jumped. Awful. In such a narrative bind, you could even be tempted to write, “had had.” This is often the result of a flawed story angle, born of either flashbacks or a ham-fisted narrative.

So use the past perfect when you need to, but like truffle salt and rock ’n’ roll harmonica, with the past perfect, a little goes a long way. If you find your story littered with the word had, there's a better way to tell it.