Consider the following question: The doorbell woke me up. When the doorbell _______________, I _______________ up.

The possible answer for the above statement is:

  • rang, woke
  • had rung, woke
  • had rung, had woken
  • rang, had woken

According to me answer to the above question should be option (b), as first, the doorbell rang and because of this I woke up. So, using the past perfect, when the doorbell had rung, I woke up. But the correct answer is (a), rang and woke. How is it possible, as using the option (a), no time order of activity is preserved?

  • If the actions are described in the same order as they happen, and there is not a large interval of time between them, there is no need to use the past perfect and most native speakers wouldn't use it. If we wanted to say the actions happened simultaneously, we would say "When the doorbell was ringing, I woke up." Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 14:29
  • While agreeing more with @PeterShor, here it seems the last option is the intended answer.
    – Ram Pillai
    Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 15:03
  • 1
    @Ram Pillai: there's a cause and effect relationship between the doorbell ringing and him waking up, which means the last option (rang, had woken) can't possibly be right. Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 15:12
  • This sounds like a school assignment. Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 15:18
  • @PeterShor; Of course I agree. It might also mean, "When the doorbell rang, I was already awake."
    – Ram Pillai
    Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 15:24

2 Answers 2


Solution 1

"WHEN" means a specific time(point in time), not a period of time.

The doorbell woke you up means You were sleeping when the doorbell rang and you woke up because the doorbell rang. It's a simultaneous action. okay?

Because the doorbell rang, you woke up. okay?

"the doorbell" is not "you" : the subject is different. So we can't omit "the doorbell". okay?

The verb "rang"s infinitive is ring and its present participle is "ringing". okay?

(Because) The/the doorbell ringing, you woke up. okay?

Solution 2

Again "WHEN" is a point in time, not a period of time.

"When the doorbell had rung, I woke up" means you woke up after the doorbell had rung.

It's not simultaneous but there is a time difference. We(in Korea) call this past perfect "Great Past", which shows the order of the event. okay?

"After the doorbell had rung, I woke up" means

(After) The/the doorbell having rung, I woke up.

  • A word of advice. Your use of "okay?" could be seen as menacing, or at least a rather cross "You do understand that, don't you?". I'd suggest just explaining clearly.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 17:22
  • To Andrew, Okay and thanks for your advice.
    – gomadeng
    Commented Jan 6, 2021 at 18:06

The first option is correct:

When the doorbell rang, I woke up.

Here’s how when is used:

  • interruptionHe was holding his newborn baby when you called. (“called” [“rang up”]—short duration)
  • same timeHe was holding his newborn baby when (or while) he was talking on the phone. (“was talking”—longer duration)
  • immediately after (in response)—When you called, he picked up his phone. (“called” and “picked up”—short duration)
  • anytime / wheneverWhen he has a question, he calls the doctor. (cause effect)...

Source: When vs. While

Your sentence displays the sense of “immediately after (in response)”.

The last option is somewhat possible if when is being used in the sense of by the time:

When the doorbell rang, I had [already] woken up.
By the time the doorbell rang, I had woken up.

Without already or by the time, though, the sentence does not sound natural.

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