The meeting had been over by three o'clock

Hello. There are two sentence, but I was told that second one is incorrect.

  • The meeting had finished by three o’clock
  • The meeting had been over by three o’clock

Both sentences are Past Perfect tenses, both have time point in past to backshift. So, I would be very grateful if someone could explain to me in easy way what the difference is.


I’m not a grammar person but I’ll give this a try until someone else comes along.

First of all, past perfect is rarely needed and rarely used. In my opinion it’s almost always awkward. Maybe because I have to stop and think what it means.

The simplest and most common way to say it is:

The meeting ended at three.
The meeting ended by three. ( slightly different meaning than ‘at’. )

My guess why your second sentence is wrong is because ‘over’ is not a verb in that sentence. So there can’t be a past perfect tense. There is no verb in that sentence.

The meeting finished.
Finish is the verb.

The meeting was over.
Was is the verb. Over modifies meeting.

If I have it completely wrong I’m sure someone will tell me. :grinning:

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Thank you for trying to help.

I thought so. But it doesn’t seem to be. In this case “Had been” - it is the “past perfect”, where “been” is the stative verb and “over” is the stative adjective (as far as I understand). So I also want to be told where I’m wrong )

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This sentence is correct but using the past perfect makes sense only if there is another action in the past related to the first one as in:

Although the meeting had finished by three o’clock, the participants still had many unanswered questions and therefore decided to continue the negotiations in the evening.

This sentece is grammaticlally correct but doesn’t sound very natural without further context.


Torsten says it’s grammatically correct. I wasn’t really sure myself, but it actually looked OK to me. As I said, I think past perfect is always awkward.

I answered assuming it really was incorrect. My line of reasoning was like this.

The movie is finished.
The movie is over.

While finished and over have slightly different meanings, they are often used as synonyms.

The movie finished.
The movie over(ed).*

Finish can be used as a verb in the above sentence, but over can not be used as a verb. Similarly:

The meeting finished.
The meeting over(ed).

This is along the lines of what I was thinking. It was just a guess, assuming it really was incorrect.

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In these sentences both ‘finished’ and ‘over’ can be viewed as adjectives. So, the past participle of the verb ‘to finish’ can different functions.