Someone had called after the residents < were alerted/ had been alerted >

Sasha Ivanov

Senior Member
Russian
Please, tell me how can I <shift> these two events (having their precedence hierarchy) a step further back?
Original:
Someone called the fire department after the residents had been alerted by the smell of smoke.
On the timeline, first "residents being alerted" happens, then "the calling". The Past Perfect shows us that.
What if I want to introduce a more recent past event:
We arrived at the scene. Someone had called the fire department after the residents (alert) by the smell of smoke.
"The calling" gets moved back and acquires the Past Perfect form to show the precedence of "arriving" over "calling".
What form does "alert" take?
1 ...after the residents were alerted by the smell of smoke.
2 ...after the residents had been alerted (I doubt it, it doesn't make sense now, that "the calling" has gotten shifted) by the smell of smoke.
Do we simply not show now the precedence of "being alerted" (it happened earlier than "calling")?
We just don't show it and use Simple Past, correct?
Isn't it confusing, like, it might seem that "calling" and "being alerted" happened concurrently, or even "calling happened earlier than "being alerted". Does English have a way of showing that a third event happened even earlier than the other two events?

< Corrected typo. Cagey, moderator >
 
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  • heypresto

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Please, tell me how can I shit these two events (having their precedence hierarchy) a step further back?
    I assume you meant 'shift'? ;):D

    The question is a bit confusing, but if I understand the situation correctly, you could say 'We arrived at the scene. Someone had called the fire department after the residents had been alerted by the smell of smoke.
     

    Sasha Ivanov

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Okay, so the "arriving" takes precedence and "calling and "being alerted" both use Past Perfect to show that.
    Can we say:
    Someone had called the fire department after the residents were alerted by the smell of smoke?
    I was taught, if I remember correctly, that after we use Past Perfect once, we can use Simple Past with other events of the same timeline. To avoid cluttering.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    The past perfect has several uses, including saying that an action took place prior to something else. When this is the case, every single instance of the past perfect requires a time reference that the action took place prior to, but these time references don't all have to be the same, and it is common for each past perfect verb to take its time reference from the previous action.
    We arrived at the scene.​
    Someone had called the fire department [this uses "we arrived" as its time reference]​
    after the residents had been alerted [this uses "someone had called" as its time reference]​
    by the smell of smoke. [This says when the residents being alerted took place]​
    I was taught, if I remember correctly, that after we use Past Perfect once, we can use Simple Past with other events of the same timeline. To avoid cluttering.
    And so you can, if the other events are of the same timeline, but timelines move forwards, not backwards. If you want to set the timeline backwards, you need the past perfect.
     

    Sasha Ivanov

    Senior Member
    Russian
    after the residents had been alerted [this uses "someone had called" as its time reference]
    Wait! So you are saying that there is a way to show the precedence of three events!
    I was asking exactly about that!
    Someone told me "no, there is no such way, we have "the most recent event" in Simple Past, then we show events preceding that event by using Past Perfect. The precedence between such events we show using other means (like "after"). But you are saying that "had been" in had been alerted" shows the precedence of "being alerted"? No?
    Is there a way to show corresponding precedence of three events without conjunctions and adverbs?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Is there a way to show corresponding precedence of three events without conjunctions and adverbs?
    I suggest you don't rely on the past perfect to do all the work for you, because the past perfect has several uses and it is not always immediately apparent what each past perfect verb's time reference is, so we use adverbs to help make this clearer to readers. However, in principle, you can have a series of past perfect verbs, each taking its time reference from the previous verb, and each one setting the time of the action further back in time.
     

    Sasha Ivanov

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thank you! So, we could. But it's confusing, right?
    If it is just bare Past Perfects.
    I thought. He had done. They had stolen.
    Which does "had stolen" refer to, first or second. But we could, thank you! I thought, we couldn't.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    Isn't it confusing, like, it might seem that "calling" and "being alerted" happened concurrently, or even "calling happened earlier than "being alerted".
    Your sentences indicates that the calling happened “after” the being alerted, so how would these be possible?
     

    Sasha Ivanov

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I mean, if we used bare forms:
    We arrived. Someone had called. The residents had alerted.
    Called and alerted might be on the timeline concurrently, might each precede the other.
    Three options. Past Perfect only shows that arrived is the most recent event. It is not important now. I was just curious if there could be three timelines in a sentence and Uncle Jack said there could. Even without "after" the second Pluperfect may reference the first Pluperfect. That was what I wanted to know.
     

    elroy

    Moderator: EHL, Arabic, Hebrew, German(-Spanish)
    US English, Palestinian Arabic bilingual
    We arrived. Someone had called. The residents had been alerted.
    The syntax only tells us that 2 and 3 happened before 1. It doesn’t tell us whether or not 2 happened before 3. Logic might imply that 3 happened before 2, but not the syntax.

    I got to the house. Mary had baked bread. Susan had cleaned the windows.

    This is an example where there’s no logical or other reason to suspect that 2 happened before 3 or vice versa. It’s fifty fifty. And it doesn’t matter for the purposes of what the writer wants to say. If they wanted to indicate which happened first, they would need to adjust the sentence to indicate that.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    The past perfect has several uses, and it is not always easy to tell them apart. Most uses of the past perfect indicate that an action happened before another action, but the past perfect does not always shift the timeline backwards; the past perfect can be used like the present perfect, in referring to a previous event without moving the timeline, and this is how we would interpret "Mary had baked bread" and "Susan had cleaned the windows" (the bread was now baked and the windows were now clean). If the past perfect does not shift the timeline backwards, it cannot be used as a time reference by another verb.
     
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