Thursday, September 18, 2008

Simple Past vs Past Perfect

‘About a month ago, I had written in this column about ....’ (New Paper, 14 September 2008). Make it About a month ago, I wrote in this column ....

In Standard English, the past perfect is used when one is relating a past even that took place before another past event. These events may have happened only minutes ago: Tim rang a few minutes ago, but May had already left.

Since a specific time point was mentioned in the article (i.e. last month), the simple past (wrote) is appropriate.

The reporter’s error appears to be the result of grammar books wrongly stating that the past perfect is used for events that happened a long time ago. This misconception is so pervasive in Singapore that this error crops up frequently not only in the New Paper, but also in the Straits Times.

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