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How to best explain this past perfect tense to a TOEIC student?

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  • PhillyT
    Participant
    16 August, 2018 at 0:38
    • Total posts: 1

    Hi,
    So here’s a question from “Skills for the TOEIC”
    -Several members of the audience left the auditorium before the speaker_______ his speech.
    (A) finishing
    (B) have finished
    (C) had finished
    (D) had been finished

    The answer is C, so my question is, (why )is the sentence correct? Should it not be the audience HAD LEFT since this action took place before the speaker FINISHED his speech?

    Thanks!

    dan
    Moderator
    22 August, 2018 at 13:43
    • Total posts: 758

    In sentences like this (with “before”) the past perfect can refer to a time after the action in the main verb. I know this sounds like a strange thing to say, but it is perfectly correct.

    We could say the sentence like this, with past simple in both clauses:

    Several members of the audience left the auditorium before the speaker finished his speech.

    This, to me, is just a statement of fact, whereas using the past perfect implies, I think, that it is quite surprising that they left:

    Several members of the audience left the auditorium before the speaker had finished his speech!

    The other way to look at this is that answer (C) is the only possible grammatically correct answer anyway. If you take the clause in isolation, none of the others make sense grammatically:

    before the speaker finishing his speech.
    before the speaker have finished his speech.
    before the speaker had been finished his speech.

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