For had fallen in a when-clause, can the past perfect tense be replaced with the past tense?

Easily the most boring class was History of Magic, which was the only one taught by a ghost. Professor Binns had been very old indeed when he had fallen asleep in front of the staffroom fire and got up next morning to teach, leaving his body behind him. Binns droned on and on while they scribbled down names and dates, and got Emetic the Evil and Uric the Oddball mixed up.

  • 2
    Can it be replaced and be grammatical? ... and mean the same thing? ... and be as easy for the reader to understand what is happening? If you're worried about the tenses in that sentence not matching, I consider there to be an elided had in front of got up. So in American English, it would be gotten up. – Peter Shor Nov 16 '12 at 11:35
  • 1
    Yes - it's imprecise with the elision, and unwieldy if you put the had in. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 18 '12 at 13:18
  • I don't think it's imprecise at all with the elision. I would say that if you want to take the second verb out of past perfect, you need to put in another he before got up. This also throws the relative timing of the passage askew in a way that putting had fallen into the simple past would not. – Peter Shor Nov 20 '12 at 21:25

If you replace had fallen with fell in the sentence, it is certainly grammatical, and it means essentially the same thing. Rowling has put the whole sentence in into the past perfect to emphasize that this happened a long time before the class that Binns is currently teaching. It may look at first sight as if the last verb (got) is not in past perfect, but in fact it is. There is an elided had before the got (more specifically, the had before the fallen also modifies the got).

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.