I have a question regarding the order of events when using past perfect.When there are three events I want to describe out of chronological order, will the listener be able to figure out which happened first?

The meeting took place because he had sent her an email, which she had forwarded to other members.

In this sentence, if I use past perfect, will the listener able to figure out that the order of the events are like this (besides the logical order): he emailed her - she forwarded the email - the meeting took place.

I'm not entirely sure how to use past perfect when I first describe the most recent event and then explain the earlier events in chronological order.

1 Answer 1


Perfects are statives, not eventives, so there is no inherent ordering; quite the contrary, the “default” implicature is that the events are simultaneous or overlap.

However, the implicature can be overridden (for instance, through adverbs like then); and by and large hearers/readers will understand the sentence to communicate what you call the “logical” order.

More to the point, perhaps, is the fact that the second perfect is not required, or even particularly desirable, once you have established the anteriority of the email. I would write it this way:

The meeting took place because he had sent her an email, which she then forwarded to other members.

a useful technical term I've just discovered and have been looking for an excuse to share. It means something implied but not entailed. That is, it is a likely but not a necessary consequence of the context: you may infer it, but the inference can be ‘cancelled’

  • Interesting new word you've taught me! I was at first wondering how it differed from implication, but these definitions sorted that out for me and gave me some food for thought. +1 just for that, not that the answer itself doesn't deserve it anyway!
    – WendiKidd
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 17:44
  • @WendiKidd Actually, this is how the language geeks are using it. Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 17:50
  • Then would you say that this makes sense as well in terms of logical chronological order? "...which she forwarded to other members." Would it still make sense if I just use simple past without "then"?
    – jess
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 14:20
  • @jess, sure. You don't really need any perfect at all; see FumbleFingers' Perfect Truism Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 14:34

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