The Past Perfect Tense and “Within”

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Students of English are often confused as to whether or not to use the past perfect tense after a prepositional phrase starting with “within.”

Here are a few examples:

  1. Within two years, he had finished college and was working in a factory.
  2. Within a few minutes, he had tied a rope to the raft and was dragging it to shore.
  3. Within 15 minutes, I completed my homework.

As you can see, the first two examples demand the use of the past perfect that show that one action happened before the other. In example 1, two actions happened: finishing college and working in a factory. Therefore, “had finished,” that is, the past perfect, is required to show that such action happened before the other action which is “working in a factory.”

Also, in the second example, two actions happened. He tied a rope and he was dragging the raft on shore. One happened before the other. Obviously, he had to have tied the rope before he could start the dragging. Therefore, we need the past perfect to show that he ‘had tied” the rope before starting to draft the raft to shore.

However, in the third example, only one action took place. That is, completed the homework. The past perfect is not required here because there is only one action and we do not need to show that one happened before the other.

As you can see, a prepositional phrase starting with the preposition “within” does not demand the past perfect tense unless it is followed by two actions one of which happened before the other.