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The following is from The Great Gatsby.

His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of color against the white steps and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home three months before.


Would it be correct to say "I thought of the night when I HAD first come to his ancestral home three months before"?

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NecrophagistWould it be correct to say "I thought of the night when I HAD first come to his ancestral home three months before"?

Yes, it would.

CJ

Comments  
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CalifJimYes, it would.

Could you please explain it to me?

Necrophagist
CalifJimYes, it would.

Could you please explain it to me?

You are the one who thought it would be all right to change it, so maybe you can explain it better to me! Emotion: smile

Were you thinking of two situations, one in the past and the other more in the past? I suspect you were. So that's why you were right.

CJ

CalifJimWere you thinking of two situations, one in the past and the other more in the past? I suspect you were. So that's why you were right.

Yes, as far as I understood, he thought (second action) about the night when he had first come (first action) to his ancestral home. But why is the past simple preferable? Because of "three months before"? What if we omit that part? Would both still work?

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NecrophagistYes, as far as I understood, he thought (second action) about the night when he had first come (first action) to his ancestral home.

Right.

NecrophagistBut why is the past simple preferable?

I wouldn't say "preferable". It's just an alternative.

In English we often have lots of ways of expressing the same idea. It gives writers a choice. They can say things as they like.

NecrophagistBecause of "three months before"? What if we omit that part? Would both still work?

Expressions like "three months before" may help to clarify the time sequence, but they are not absolutely necessary.

Common sense tells us you can't think of something that hasn't already happened in the past, so there's no urgent need to point out that thinking about a night in the past couldn't happen before that night happened.

'came' is already enough of a clue that it's not a matter of thinking of a night that might happen in the future, so 'had come' is not, strictly speaking, necessary. However, there's nothing wrong with 'had come'.

CJ

NecrophagistWould it be correct to say "I thought of the night when I HAD first come to his ancestral home three months before"?

F. Scott Fitzgerald is better than anybody in here. Relax and read him and learn English. His choices are always the best. Try to understand why he put it that way and not your way. I agree with his way, incidentally. There is no call for the past perfect.

CalifJim
NecrophagistYes, as far as I understood, he thought (second action) about the night when he had first come (first action) to his ancestral home.

Right.

NecrophagistBut why is the past simple preferable?

I wouldn't say "preferable". It's just an alternative.

In English we often have lots of ways of expressing the same idea. It gives writers a choice. They can say things as they like.

NecrophagistBecause of "three months before"? What if we omit that part? Would both still work?

Expressions like "three months before" may help to clarify the time sequence, but they are not absolutely necessary.

Common sense tells us you can't think of something that hasn't already happened in the past, so there's no urgent need to point out that thinking about a night in the past couldn't happen before that night happened.

'came' is already enough of a clue that it's not a matter of thinking of a night that might happen in the future, so 'had come' is not, strictly speaking, necessary. However, there's nothing wrong with 'had come'.

CJ

Now it's clear! Thank you!

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