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    #1

    when + past perfect

    Hello! Can you give me some help, please?
    In the following sentence:
    When he had left the village, he continued to travel through somewhere else. (from a grammar exercise: past simple or perfect?)
    Is the past perfect correct? I think both past simple and perfect are here acceptable. What do you think? I'm wondering if "when" can be followed by the past perfect. Thanks a lot in advance!

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    #2

    Re: when + past perfect

    In your sentence, there is no significant difference in meaning between the two tenses. The past perfect is not incorrect, but there is no need for it.

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    #3

    Re: when + past perfect

    Thanks a lot, Piscean! It seems to me that, if I say "When he had left", I underline the fact that first he left the village, and then he kept on his travelling; in this sense here: when = after he had left.
    I have some doubts about using the past perfect after "when"; but I don't think it is incorrect from a grammar point of view:
    As I can say:
    1)When I've dinner, I'll call you. = After I have dinner, I'll call you. (I eat and then I call you)
    I suppose I can also say:
    2)When he had left the village, he continued to travel abroad.
    (even though in 1) we can distinguish two different actions more clearly than in 2)).
    Do you agree?

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    #4

    Re: when + past perfect

    Quote Originally Posted by dewedfrost View Post
    As I can say:
    1)When I've had dinner, I'll call you. = After I have dinner, I'll call you. (I eat and then I call you)
    I suppose I can also say:
    2)When he had left the village, he continued to travel abroad.
    (even though in 1) we can distinguish two different actions more clearly than in 2)).
    Do you agree?
    Yes.

    The point here is that leaving is punctual action - it has no significant duration. The action marks the completion of the action. So, for most practical purposes, when you leave a place, you have left it.

    Having dinner, however, takes time. When you are having dinner, you have not yet completed it. You have not had dinner until you have finished having it.

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    #5

    Re: when + past perfect

    Thanks a lot, Piscean! Sorry for my mistake (I meant "I've had" )!

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    #6

    Re: when + past perfect

    More advanced point (not for the faint-hearted).

    Some events, such as the bursting of a balloon are always punctual. There is, therefore, no difference in meaning between The child cried when the balloon burst and The child cried when the balloon had burst. We are unlikely to use the past perfect, because there is no need.

    Having dinner, as I said, takes time. There is therefore a difference between:

    I called her when (/while) I was having dinner. - I called her during the meal.
    I called her when I had had dinner. - I called her after the meal.
    I called her when I had dinner. - This is not really clear. We are unlikely to say it.

    Leaving can be seen as a punctual event, the moment between being somewhere and not being there. However, it can also be seen as having some duration, covering the short time before crossing the threshold and the short time after it. Thus we can say:

    She cried when (while) I was leaving. She began to cry as I said goodbye and opened the door, and continued crying while I walked down the garden path.
    She cried when I left. This could mean the same as the previous example. I could also mean that she began crying as I closed the door behind me. The difference is not particularly significant.
    She cried when I had left. She began to cry at some point after I had closed the door behind me.

    One problem for learners is that many native speakers tend to use the past perfect far less frequently than some course books and student grammars appear to suggest. If the sequence of events is clear from the context, we tend to stick with the past simple. Even when we do use it, some native speakers may think we haven't. The pronunciation in informal sepech of, for example I'd decided is almost indistinguishable for that of I decided.

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    #7

    Re: when + past perfect

    That's so kind of you, Piscean! But if I say "He had learnt a little Portuguese at language classes, but in this remote village they spoke a local language",
    does "had learnt" sound incorrect? Is the past simple to be preferred? I find the past perfect right here in this context, but even the past simple could be acceptable. Don't you think so? Thanks a lot again!

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    #8

    Re: when + past perfect

    Quote Originally Posted by dewedfrost View Post
    Thanks a lot, Piscean! It seems to me that, if I say "When he had left", I underline the fact that first he left the village, and then he kept on his travelling; in this sense here: when = after he had left.
    It doesn't seem necessary to me to emphasise it here.

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    #9

    Re: when + past perfect

    I might well use a past perfect there, but It is not essential.

    You'll see from the slightly different answers Tdol and I have given that this is very much a matter of personal feeling. It's not possible in many cases to say definitively that one form is better than the other.

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