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It had been sunny for a week when the storm broke out.

Is this sentence logically valid and sound?

If I think of it, it looks like it means when the storm broke out, it was sunny. There couldn't be stormy weather and sunny weather at the same moment, could it? It's like being both black and white at the same time.

So it would be natural to say "It had been (or was) sunny for a week before the storm broke out", wouldn't it?

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  • I'd not feel too jarred on hearing 'when' here (though I'd find 'was sunny' incongruous then). 'When' can be less than absolutely precise ('He'd been reigning for thirty years when the war broke out' - not quite the same situation, admittedly). But I'd use 'Before the storm broke out, it had been sunny for a week'. Again, the 'it-can't-have-been-an-instantaneous-change' problem is glossed over. Jan 13 '20 at 19:01
  • @EdwinAshworth Why would you find 'was sunny' incongruous here? Isn't it allowed in modern English to use Simple Past with the conjunction "before" when the sequence of events is clear?
    – Rusletov
    Jan 13 '20 at 19:10
  • I said I['d] find 'It had been sunny for a week when the storm broke out' unremarkable but 'It was sunny for a week when the storm broke out' jarring. Jan 13 '20 at 19:19
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    We'd normally say something like "It was sunny for a week and then the storm broke out." Note that logic is not the standard to apply to any language, let alone English. As noted linguist John McWhorter said, "No language makes perfect sense."
    – Robusto
    Jan 13 '20 at 19:48
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    "There couldn't be stormy weather and sunny weather at the same moment" - Well there could be, but that's not what that sentence means.
    – nnnnnn
    Jan 13 '20 at 20:36
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It is fine. At the point the storm broke out, it “had been” (past sense) sunny. Thus, the sunny and storm did not occur at the same time. It is the past perfect continuous tense.

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/past-perfect

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  • Hmm. I had been Gandalf the Grey for a few thousand years when I became Gandalf the White. Makes sense.
    – Rusletov
    Jan 13 '20 at 21:40
  • Not entirely sure the reference, but it reads correctly.
    – Patrick
    Jan 13 '20 at 21:52
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It is difficult to construct a sentence such as this that makes sense without context.

Your re-phrase, for example, could be interpreted as meaning that there was a sunny week at some point, not necessarily the week immediately preceding, before the storm broke out.

Groucho says:

I was on safari. And one night I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got them on I still don't know.

Maybe you could write it as so.

It had been sunny for the whole week just before the storm broke out.

And then my dermatologist's receptionist will ask "at night too?" English is a weird language.

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