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I saw the sentence on the internet like "I had milk and played computer games."

There are two events occurring in the sentence.

  1. I had milk
  2. I played computer games.

I would love to know what is the precedent event and the after event in the sentence above. (What is the previous event? No 1 sentence or No 2 sentence?) Or simultaneous event?

Please, tell me the answer.

  • Easy. Play computer game with right hand while drinking milk with left hand. (I kid.) – Joshua Nov 22 '16 at 0:27
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    Natural language is always ambiguous. I believe another valid (albeit strange) interpretation is to see played as adjective, and then have the verb had modify the noun phrase milk and played computer games. As in; I had a glass of milk and some second-hand games. – Reinstate Monica Nov 22 '16 at 15:18
35

The default interpretation of consecutive 'eventive' clauses (clauses which express an action or event rather than a state) is that the events occur in the order they are specified. Since had in this use ( = "consumed") is eventive, we assume that you drank your milk first, and then played computer games.

However, it is also possible that the two events are simultaneous: it may be that you poured a glass of milk and sipped it slowly while you were playing.

In many cases it doesn't matter which sequence occurred. If it does matter, then you will have to say more to make clear which you mean:

I had milk and then played computer games.

I had milk while I played computer games.

You can also use before and after to signify order:

I had milk before I played computer games.

I had milk after I played computer games.

  • 27
    I upvoted this answer but wanted to add a footnote. Sometimes the context will provide a clue as to whether the two events happened sequentially or simultaneously. For example, I sipped wine and ate the chicken cordon bleu (likely happened concurrently) or I drove to my brother's house and watched my nephew for a few hours (likely happened sequentially). With milk and video games, though, it'd be anyone's guess. – J.R. Nov 21 '16 at 18:30
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    @J.R.: "I sipped wine and ate the chicken cordon bleu (likely happened concurrently)" Impressive! I just tried that, and they both went everywhere :( – Lightness Races with Monica Nov 22 '16 at 15:10
  • +1, though those are not the two only valid interpretations, as @ABoschman's comment to the question pointed out. – I'm with Monica Nov 22 '16 at 15:46
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There's no way to know which happened first in the sentence you wrote. However, if it was written as "I had milk and THEN played computer games", then that means you had milk first and played video games afterwards.

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In this case, there's no way to be sure what the order of events is, because there's no particular connection between drinking milk and playing computer games. The two things might even have been simultaneous. In the most literal sense, "and" just means the two things on either side of it are being asserted: "It is true that I had milk. It is also true that I played computer games."

However, most speakers have some sort of reason for saying things the way they said them. The fact that the speaker mentioned the milk suggests that they feel the milk is more important or that it came first. Most people are probably more excited about playing computer games than drinking milk, so it seems more likely that the milk came first. On the other hand, it may be that they were just mirroring something that was said to them. For example, if somebody said to me "Did you have milk or did you play computer games?" I might say "I had milk and I played computer games," even if I drank the milk afterwards.

In other situations, you can infer the order because one of the things has to be done first. For example, if I said "I opened the door and walked through it", you know that I must have opened it first, and then walked through. (Unless I'm a Gumby. Which I'm not. Even though my brain hurts.)

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