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My Chinese English Student has asked me if this sentence is correct grammatically:

Mary had arrived at the reporting room after the man closed the door.

I sounds okay to me but it seems to break the rule that the Past Perfect refers to an event before another event in time. Could you please explain why it might be correct or incorrect please?

  • "Mary arrived at the reporting room after the man had closed the door." – Mick Dec 30 '16 at 11:49
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    As indicated in Peter Shor's answer, we need to see the surrounding text to answer this question properly. – TrevorD Dec 30 '16 at 13:24
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My understanding of this: There are three cases when past perfect is used 1) when it happened before certain event in past and is combined with action in simple past, or 2) in reported speech, or 3) in conditional sentences.

First use case like "I was very tired as I hadn't slept well for several days" often implies the event, in fact we distinguish between two actions that happened in past and were linked in particular order. In your case, without any other context the very rather action of closing the door must be in past perfect, because it happened before Mary's arrival, in "deeper" past. Otherwise ther might be some phrase before this one, that makes Mary's arrival a PERFECT action, for example someone met her in the hall after she had came. In some cases it possible not to use past perfect tense in combination with simple past, that is if order of actions is natural and obvious, but is recommended to use one where clarity might be compromised

  • So if we say: "I met Mary in the hall. Mary had arrived at the reporting room after the man closed the door." Is this is now grammatically correct? – Peter Williams Dec 30 '16 at 15:23
  • That should be fine. You can rearrange this as "I met Mary in the hall after she had arrived at the reporting room..." But repeating "after" sounds stylistically cumbersome, so it was broken up this way. – Swift Dec 31 '16 at 13:45
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It's perfectly fine, as long as there are verbs in other sentences of the narrative which take place after this. The event that happens after the event described by past perfect doesn't need to be in the same sentence.

And we don't need to use past perfect when the sequence of events is clear without using it. This means that we don't always use it with the preposition after, even if the main clause is in already in past perfect.

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    So if we say: "I met Mary in the hall. Mary had arrived at the reporting room after the man closed the door." This is now grammatically correct? – Peter Williams Dec 30 '16 at 15:21
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    @Peter Williams: I don't see anything wrong with that. – Peter Shor Dec 30 '16 at 15:30

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