Both these sentences contain two verbs (correct me if I'm wrong) that are in the past perfect tense. I'd like to ask how do they occur in chronological order. Though my question is related to the one posted here: Two past perfect verbs in the same sentence even though sequence is indicated, having the 3rd verb helped helps establishing that order, which makes it irrelevant in these two cases above (again, correct me if I'm wrong).

The Red Cross workers had not expected the refugees from the flooded plain to be as desperate and as undernourished as those whom they had seen earlier in the week.

Because negotiations had reached a deadlock, some of the delegates had begun to mutter about breaking off the talks.

  • 2
    Both of these verbs come before some event in some other sentence. The chronological order indicated by the past perfect tense need not all be in the same sentence. Oct 18, 2014 at 13:27

2 Answers 2


As PeterShor's comment indicates, the past perfect shows only that the event referred to occurred before some other event. If (as in your examples) there are two instances, then there were two events, both occurring before something else. As a matter of logic, one of the two events referred to must have happened before the other (the second in your first example and the first in your second), but that has nothing to do with the grammar used.

  • One cannot even assume that 'the past perfect shows ... that the event referred to occurred before some other event'. 'He left before I had arrived' is the paradoxical usage with 'before', where the past perfect is possibly used to indicate a non-factual (at that point in time) state. Oct 18, 2014 at 14:32

This is the simple statement of fact: what were the expectations of the workers?

The Red Cross workers did not expect the refugees to be as desperate as those they had seen the week before.

This is the more nuanced statement of fact: Were those expectations borne out? No, the workers came to understand that their expectations had been overly optimistic:

The Red Cross workers had not expected the refugees to be as desperate as those they had seen the week before.

So there are three times at play here.

  • I'll take your comment as a question since I don't understand aa-. 1) Desperate refugees arrive. 2) Time passes, during which workers develop expectations about the level of desperation of the next wave of refugees. 3) Then comes next wave of refugees, and they are just as desperate as the previous wave, or even more desperate, which causes workers to realize that their expectations had been overly optimistic.
    – TimR
    Oct 18, 2014 at 19:04
  • Sorry, this commenting system takes some getting used to. So the events here by order of occurrence are these: 1. Seeing the first refugees (explicit past perfect verb). 2. Forming expectations or speculating regarding the next refugees' conditions (implicit or nuanced). 3. Coming to an understanding regarding these expectations (again explicit past perfect). Is that correct? If so, why is (3) in the perfect tense, which event does it precede? (another implied one perhaps?)
    – idanp
    Oct 18, 2014 at 19:13
  • And while we're at it, I'll attempt to generalize it: it is grammatically correct to use perfect verb tenses in accordance with implied events both inside and outside the sentences that contain these verbs. Does this make sense?
    – idanp
    Oct 18, 2014 at 19:26

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