This is something I've been thinking about. It would be rather hard to tell a story without using a pluperfect. I know there are languages that lack tense, like Chinese, but what about languages that do have tense systems? Japanese for instance has pretty much just past and non-past. What kind of structure would they use where we would use a pluperfect?

I should note that the only languages I'm deeply familiar with are English (my native language) and German (which does have a pluperfect, formed the same way we form one in English). I did study Japanese for a few years when I was younger and into anime, but I never really got far into it. I only know the basics of the grammar.

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    Have you done some initial research? For example, in Slavic languages the Pluperfect is lost or very rare. Aug 22, 2017 at 0:11
  • I was also interesting in knowing what languages do when they lack it. I don't believe I've ever heard of Japanese having one. But I could be wrong. LIke I said, I only know the grammar on a beginner level.
    – user19661
    Aug 22, 2017 at 0:34
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    In Russian, for example, it is very occasionaly used (mostly in written language) and not everyone even understands this is plueperfect, like: ”On bylo vstal iz-za stola, no rešil, čto lučše rešit' zadaču sejčas“ (He first had stood up but then decided it was better to finish the task). Instead, you can use simple past tense (sequencing your verbs right), adverbials that structure the discourse (before/after etc.) I do not feel like I lack plueperfect to fully express myself. Aug 22, 2017 at 6:48
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    Lots of languages have tense but lack a pluperfect. Modern Hebrew for example has only three tenses, past, present, and future.
    – TKR
    Aug 22, 2017 at 16:30
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    What does it mean, to "have a pluperfect"? Evidently every language must have a way to express the idea that a fact was already past in the time the narrative refers to; some languages have a synthetic way to express it, others need verbal phrases. For instance, Standard Portuguese "has" a pluperfect: João terminara seu mestrado quando decidiu emigrar para a Tunísia; English "has not": John had finished his master's degree when he decided to emigrate to Tunisia. But both languages can easily express the idea. Aug 23, 2017 at 10:41

1 Answer 1


E.g. Czech and other Slavic languages. Pluperfect in English is very often used in indirect speech where there is no present, past or future but rather simultaneity, "previousness" and "consecutiveness", for which English uses simple past, pluperfect and "conditional" (or future past - past tense of the auxiliary verb will) respectively, while Czech would use typically the present tense for simultaneous action, past tense for previous action and future tense for following action as it is clear that the temporal reference point of the clause is not "now" (time of the current utterance) but rather as "then" (time of the utterance the main clause is talking about).


Mother said that children were asleep. (past - past: simultaneous)

Matka řekla, že děti spí. (past - present: simultaneous)

Mother said that children would fall asleep. (past - future past: following)

Matka řekla, že děti usnou. (past - future: following)

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