...because they <had> arrived to find her already dead.

JJXR

Senior Member
Russian
Hello to all,

Thanks for reading my post.


Sample sentence:

A woman died before the doctors were able to get to her. They didn't do anything because they <had> arrived to find her already dead.

Question:

Is the bolded "had" optional in my sentence?


Thanks a lot for any comments, corrections or suggestions!

Regards,
JJXR
 
  • PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    They didn't do anything because they <had> arrived to find her already dead.
    The sentence is a little strange - there is a slight ambiguity -> did they find her and she was dead or did they arrive in order to find her dead?

    So: They didn't do anything because, when they arrived and found her, she was already dead.

    PS
    Is "X" optional?

    Optional: without qualification, "optional" often gives the impression that it is on a mere whim that one day you will say it, and on another not and it really does not matter at all.

    I would use "preferable". :)
     

    JJXR

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thanks PaulQ.
    The sentence is a little strange - there is a slight ambiguity -> did they find her and she was dead or did they arrive in order to find her dead?
    If I use the word "only", does the sentence still sound strange? If the word "only" makes the sentence correct, can the sentence be used both with and without the bolded "had"?

    They didn't do anything because they <had> arrived only to find her already dead.
     
    Last edited:

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    If I use the word "only", does the sentence still sound strange?
    You seem to have drifted away from the topic of simple past and past perfect.

    Also, it would be helpful to know the context in which you are asking the question - I suspect that it is that you are trying to work out how the two tenses are used, and from the examples, discover a "rule" that you can apply.

    First, there are no real "rules" in English; like Russian, English is filled with "exceptions".

    The past perfect is far commoner in written English and is mainly used for descriptive narration in which the author "sets the scene" or give context for the main event or subject. The past perfect is used, in this case, to refer to the earliest events/circumstances that have ended at the time of the main event. It is most often used as the tense of the verb that describes the earliest part of the description.

    In spoken English, it is possible to use it in descriptive narration as part of conversation - again to "set the scene" or give context, but is not so often used in actual conversation.

    OK. "What tense do you think is preferable, and why?" :thumbsup:
     

    JJXR

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thanks PaulQ.
    OK. "What tense do you think is preferable, and why?" :thumbsup:
    I think the past perfect is preferable because the arriving is earier in time than the not doing anything. The past simple is acceptable because we can see both verbs "didn't do" and "arrived" as referring to the same period of time (the word "because" makes the order of events clear). Am I correct?
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    I think the past perfect is preferable because the arriving is earlier in time than the not doing anything.
    The problem is mainly with the sentence as a whole - it seems somewhat artificial rather than natural - it is a poor example. Poor examples make understanding very difficult.

    {The doctors..[had arrived].............and...[...found.....].her dead} -.....there was nothing they......could do.
    ..................[past perfect]......................[past perfect].......................................................[simple past.]
    {.............first completed event}......{....second complete event..} -{...............main event.......................}
    {........narrative description giving background/context to............} {........................the main event...........}

    Does that help?
     

    JJXR

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Yes, it does. Thanks for the explanation.
    The sentence is a little strange - there is a slight ambiguity -> did they find her and she was dead or did they arrive in order to find her dead?
    But still I want to see if the past perfect is optional after the word "because". Let's assume that the intended meaning is that they arrived in order to find her dead. Does what I have written in post #5 make sense in this case?
    • A woman died before the doctors were able to get to her. They didn't do anything because they had arrived to find her already dead. :tick:
    • A woman died before the doctors were able to get to her. They didn't do anything because they arrived to find her already dead. :tick:
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    A woman died before the doctors were able to get to her. They didn't do anything because they <had> arrived to find her already dead.

    Is the bolded "had" optional in my sentence?
    JJXR
    Hi JJXR

    The use of the past perfect sounds unnatural here. There is absolutely no need for it.

    So I agree with PaulQ's suggestion: They didn't do anything because, when they arrived [and found her], she was already dead.
    Or you could turn it round: They couldn't do anything because she was [already] dead when they arrived.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I find your sentence less natural because we normally say because she was dead when they arrived (not because they arrived to find her dead).

    But this is more a stylistic comment than a grammatical one.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    Also, it would be helpful to know the context in which you are asking the question - I suspect that it is that you are trying to work out how the two tenses are used, and from the examples, discover a "rule" that you can apply.

    First, there are no real "rules" in English; like Russian, English is filled with "exceptions".
    But still I want to see if the past perfect is optional
    Please reread my quoted post above.

    What are you trying to achieve by seeing "if the past perfect is optional"? Surely, it would be more helpful to learn why and when to use it, wouldn't it?
     
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