past pluperfect

Today’s Zippy:

Thing is, past pluperfect is redundant, since pluperfect in English grammar is a synonym of past perfect.. As a result, grammars of Engish don’t treat past pluperfect as a technical term at all.

It’s not clear to me what the source of this error is. Does Bill Griffith himself think that past pluperfect is a grammatical term in English? Or is he representing Zippy as laboring under this misapprehension, perhaps as a result of pluperfect being used, outside of grammatical discussions, to mean ‘more than perfect’?

The summary, from NOAD:

adj. pluperfect: [a] (of a tense) denoting an action completed prior to some past point of time specified or implied, formed in English by had and the past participle, as in he had gone by then; past perfect. [b] more than perfect: they have one pluperfect daughter and are expecting an ideal little brother for her.

More detail on the grammatical term, from Wikipedia:

The pluperfect (shortening of plusquamperfect), usually called past perfect in English, is a type of verb form, generally treated as one of the tenses in certain languages, used to refer to an action at a time earlier than a time in the past already referred to. Examples in English are: “we had arrived”; “they had written”.

The word derives from the Latin plus quam perfectum, “more than perfect”. The word “perfect” in this sense means “completed”; it contrasts with the “imperfect”, which denotes uncompleted actions or states. [These are aspect categories, rather than tenses.]

In English grammar, the pluperfect (e.g. “had written”) is now usually called the past perfect, since it combines past tense with perfect aspect. (The same term is sometimes used in relation to the grammar of other languages.)


4 Responses to “past pluperfect”


    I guess everybody on here probably knows the old joke about the fellow visiting Boston for the first time, after hearing about that wonderfully tasty New England fish, the scrod.

    He gets out of Logan Airport and hails a cab and he goes, “Do you know where I can get scrod around here?”

    And the cabbie’s like, “Buddy, I been drivin’ hack for forty years, and that’s the first time I ever heard it in the pluperfect subjunctive.”

  2. Robert Coren Says:

    past pluperfect is redundant, since pluperfect in English grammar is a synonym of past perfect.

    It is? i thought past perfect referred to constructions like “I have gone”, whereas [past] pluperfect refers to “I had gone”. I’m not arguing against the proposition that pluperfect is sufficient without the “past”; I’m just wondering about that equivalence.

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