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Hello all!

In spite a chronical lack of time, I have managed to spare some of it to continue the reading of "The Lord of the Rings", so here're is my new question:

"Before they had finished breakfast the clouds had joined into an unbroken roof and a straight grey rain came softly and steadily down."

In don't quite understand the use of tenses here, neither the time line is cleat to me. My initial perception was as follows:

1. The clouds joined into a whole cover
2. The rain began
3. The hobbits finished their breakfast

Assuming this, why is the last clause written in the Past Simple? Or, maybe, the time line is different?

Thanks in advance,
Anton
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Comments  
Hi,
can I try to answer? Emotion: wink
I think that "came down" actually means "was raining", "was coming down". I would have used "was raining", using a progressive tense, seeing that sentence without the context, but... I am not a writer after all. Emotion: stick out tongue Using "came", not progressive, makes it sound more "detached" in my opinion, I don't know. Like the difference between "It rained" and "It was raining".

Before they had finished breakfast, the clouds had joined into an unbroken roof... [and] A straight grey rain came softly and steadily down. = It was raining.

Your sequence of events is ok. I think the author used "had joined" to emphasize that it was already cloudy before and then it started to rain. He could have written "the clouds joined...", but that was probably not the effect he had in mind.
Just my guess though.
KooyeenI think that "came down" actually means "was raining", "was coming down". I would have used "was raining", using a progressive tense, seeing that sentence without the context, but... I am not a writer after all. Using "came", not progressive, makes it sound more "detached" in my opinion, I don't know.
In the past use the progressive for an interupted event. "It was raining when the car skidded off the road", or "We where eating when the phone rang".
"Came down" means started to rain. Prior to the rain the cloads had joined up into a grey ceiling. Past perfect is used to describe this as it happened before the other event.
"Before they had finished breakfast", past perfect is used here because instead of looking backwards to the past, we are viewing the past from the past. I.e. this is a backshifted present. "Before they have finished breakfast it will be raining" => "Before they had finished breakfast it was raining".
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Ant_222In don't quite understand the use of tenses here, neither the time line is clea[r] to me. My initial perception was as follows:

1. The clouds joined into a whole cover
2. The rain began
3. The hobbits finished their breakfast

Assuming this, why is the last clause written in the Past Simple?
Your time line is correct. The last clause is probably in the past simple because raining is non-eventive (i.e. imperfective). had come down would have implied that the entire "rain-event" had already finished before breakfast, but in fact it was still raining during breakfast.
CJ
KooyeenUsing "came", not progressive, makes it sound more "detached" in my opinion, I don't know. Like the difference between "It rained" and "It was raining".
It's not always necessary to move to the progressive tense in English in order to convey continuous action.
The rain came down all day. ~ The rain kept coming down all day. ~ It was raining all day.
CJ
CalifJimThe last clause is probably in the past simple because raining is non-eventive (i.e. imperfective).
Am I right that "came down" can be replaced by "had began" producing a sentence consisting of three Past Perfect clauses?

«Before they had finished breakfast the clouds had joined into an unbroken roof and a straight grey rain had began"»

I have seen usages like: "I sat at the table and started writing. Before I had written a couple of lines someone called me", where the last clause, although it precedes the event expressed in the Past Perfect, is in the Past Simple form. Isn't this situation similar to the one discussed? If so, I don't see a reason to use the Past Perfect in "the clouds had joined":

«Before they had finished breakfast the clouds joined into an unbroken roof and a straight grey rain came softly and steadily down».

P.S.: Thank you for your help, but looks like I need more of it Emotion: smile
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Ant_222a straight grey rain had began
"Begin", => "began" => "had begun". Present => past => perfect. In my opinion you need another verb in there:
  • a straight grey rain had begun to fall
  • it had begun to rain straight and grey
Although you could use the perfect I think the simple past works better.
Ant_222"Before I had written a couple of lines someone called me", where the last clause, although it precedes the event expressed in the Past Perfect, is in the Past Simple form.
The interupting action does not precede.The perfect is being used to describe the state at the time of the interuption, not the action that may or may not subsequently occur. Compare with the present: "Before I have [even] written a couple of lines someone calls me". Your sentence is a backshifted version of this.
HuevosThe interupting action does not precede.The perfect is being used to describe the state at the time of the interuption, not the action that may or may not subsequently occur.
OK, this I got.

But I still don't understand why the second clause ("...clouds had joined...") must(?) be written in the Past Perfect.

Before I had written a couple of lines someone called (Past Simple) me — Before they had finished breakfast the clouds joined (Past Simle) into an unbroken roof and a straight grey rain came (Past Simple) down.

These last two clauses (the joining of the clouds and the beginning of the rain) desribe a sequence of events, so I can't see a reason for the Past Perfect, just like in: "I opened the door and my cat sprung from the sofa and ran to my feet."

Anton
Ant_222But I still don't understand why the second clause ("...clouds had joined...") must(?) be written in the Past Perfect.
"Must", not always. On many occasions we can use the simple past as a substitute for the past perfect but then we have to rely on context, and the events have to be written in the correct sequence. When we use the past perfect, on the other hand, we can change the order in which we tell of the events without breaking the timeline.
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