Consider this sentence:

He had felt this pain earlier, when he drew the bow.

My intuition would be that the sentence is incorrect, and that the correct form is:

He had felt this pain earlier, when he had drawn the bow.

That being said, I remember from school that the future form would be something like He will feel this pain later, when he draws the bow., which goes against my intuition already... so I'm not sure what to think.

Which form is correct? (Is it maybe both? If so, is there a distinction?) Is there some sort of rationale behind it, encompassing both the past and future cases?

Edit: To clarify, my question is about the rationale behind the future case He will feel this pain later, when he draws the bow., and how that rationale applies to other tenses like when the past perfect is involved

Edit 2: I understand that the past form of He feels this pain when he draws the bow. is He felt this pain when he drew the bow. What I don't understand is why adding anteriority wouldn't result in He had felt this pain when he had drawn the bow., and for that matter why the future form isn't He will feel this pain when he will draw the bow.. What are the rules here?

  • Possible duplicate of Mixing past tenses in the same sentence
    – EenBeetje
    Apr 16, 2019 at 21:18
  • @eenbeetje I don't think that's quite the same thing. For example, given the future case, nothing in that question/answer suggests that "when he will draw the bow" is false and that the present has to be used instead
    – Eternal
    Apr 16, 2019 at 21:34
  • 1
    Both sentences are grammatical. My personal preference is the first sentence. It's shorter and simpler. Apr 17, 2019 at 5:18

3 Answers 3


IMHO the first version is correct and the second less so. In precise English the two sentences have slightly different meanings, and it is my guess that it is the first sentence that contains the intended meaning. The difference is that in the first sentence, he noticed the pain whilst he was drawing the bow, and in the second, the implication is that he noticed the pain only having drawn the bow, i.e. at some point of time after drawing the bow. The first sentence is the past form of "I notice the pain, when I draw the bow", whilst the second is the past form of "I notice the pain, when I have drawn the bow".


The lack of use of the future tense in a subordinate clause is (I believe) related to the lack of a future tense in the Latin subjunctive. In the case of Latin, when the main clause is in the future tense and the conjunction requires a subjunctive, then the present subjunctive is used. English follows the same rule, ie when the main clause is in future tense, then relative clauses (eg if ..., when ...) are in the present tense. In the case of German the future tense is often dropped altogether; the present tense is regularly used in main clauses as well (er kommt morgen), where English retains the future (he will come tomorrow). In general the future tense tends to be dropped, when from the context it is not necessary.

  • 1
    I think it partially answers my question, but I'm still confused. I'll make an edit to my question to give more precisions
    – Eternal
    Apr 17, 2019 at 14:45

Both are correct in this case IMHO. I have noticed that the past perfect is very often not used in modern American speech where I would have preferred it but is apparently acceptable. In some cases it would have contributed to the comprehension of the speaker`s message.


Your first sentence is an appropriate use of tense sequence. In the tense sequence there are two actions like previous action in which past perfect tense should be used and the subsequent action should be in the past simple tense.

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