View Full Version : Past perfect vs simple past

May 9th, 2014, 17:08
One of the textbooks has this sentence:

At that time, I didn't decide whether I would attend the party.

In my mind, I want to change it to:

At that time, I hadn't decided whether or not I would attend the party.

But, I can't really explain why. Is the book wrong, or am I? Or is it some sort of American English thing?

May 9th, 2014, 17:15
At that time, I didn't decide whether I would attend the party (I decided later)

At that time, I hadn't decided whether I would attend the party

May 9th, 2014, 18:14
Or is it some sort of American English thing?

We're all ALTs too, no clutching at that straw here!

May 9th, 2014, 18:36
More like a Japanese English versus native English thing, I'd wager.

May 9th, 2014, 18:37
I only thought of the American English thing since the textbook had a note about perfect tense usage being different in the US.

It'd be really helpful to have a technical reason for the book sentence being correct/incorrect since the JTE who asked is some sort of grammar expert (he's written a couple of books about it) and he isn't satisfied with my explanation of "it feels wrong."

May 9th, 2014, 18:52
"At that time" is unnecessary except to suggest a situational change between the time described and the present. While the decision was not made at the point in time indicated by the sentence, it was made eventually (I hadn't decided at that time [but I have now]). This means that the perfect aspect is incorrect since, and I'm sure you can use the Japanese translation to confirm this, it's meant to describe a situation in which the act of deciding had not yet been completed, rather than the simple past which would suggest that the decision was never made.

May 9th, 2014, 19:31
Grammatically the meaning is slightly different.

"I didn't decide at that time" means that at a specific point in time you did not make a decision. Maybe you decided before, maybe you decided after, maybe you still haven't decided, but at the point in time you're talking about you didn't make your decision.
"I hadn't decided at that time" means that up to that point you had not yet made your decision. The decision must have been made some time after that point in time.

It's the difference between, say, "I didn't go to Korea"(when my friends went last year) and "I haven't been to Korea"(ever). If you specify a point in time the past perfect becomes kind of redundant. If I say "I didn't study Japanese before coming to Japan" or "I hadn't studied Japanese before coming to Japan" then effectively I've said the same thing. But there is a difference between the two sentences even if it serves no purpose.

This is the problem with Japanese textbooks and teachers, well, at least with the way they've decided to teach; they don't actually fucking know what they're talking about and gloss over the explanations by babbling away about grammatical terminology and making up nonsense like "it's a US english difference", which I expect is a result of them consulting only one foreigner who didn't know the answer themselves and made up some bullshit. I've seen plenty of textbooks give really vague sometimes completely incorrect explanations of grammar points, and it just frustrates me to no end. If I remember I'll post on monday this part of my textbook that just gives a completely incorrect example and then claims "this one is more polite" that I totally believe is some ex-ALTs handiwork...

"If you're going to to this damn silly thing, don't do it in this damn silly way".

I sometimes try to explain their textbook stuff by breaking down what each part of the sentence actually means/the function it serves within the sentence and it seems like it works pretty well for the kids at least. The funny thing is that a lot of the older teachers are completely baffled by it, and then when they do get it their minds are fucking blown.