I had been to dinner at Mike's twice before when Richard Platt was there.

I think this sentence means:

  • Richard Platt ate at Mike's but I'd already eaten there twice
  • I have eaten there three times including the time when Richard was there
  • This was Richard's first dinner at Mike's

Am I right?

2 Answers 2


You interpret when Richard Platt was there as a "free relative clause" acting as object of the preposition before.

Free relatives do act as NPs (noun phrases), both as sentence constituents and objects of prepositions:

Last Saturday is [when Richard Platt was there].
[When Richard Platt was there] was last Saturday, not Friday. I was searching the calendar for [when Richard Platt was there].

But it is unlikely that the author means "before [(the time) when Richard Platt was there]". It is more likely that 1) before is an adverb, and 2) the when clause is an ordinary temporal clause = "at times when Richard Platt was there".

Thus, although the sentence is ambiguous and could bear your interpretation, what it probably means is

I had been to dinner at Mike's on two previous occasions. On both of those occasions Richard Platt was there.

Hellion and Tyler James Young point out another ambiguity. As the sentence stands, without a comma, when Richard Platt was there must be read as a restrictive relative clause, meaning the author is speaking only about those occasions when both he and Richard Platt were present; there may have been occasions when the author dined at Mike's and Richard Platt was not there. My reading above technically requires a comma after before to mark the when clause as non-restrictive and imply that the two occasions named are all the occasions when the author dined at Mike's. In its absence, a better reading would be:

On two previous occasions when I had been to dinner at Mike's Richard Platt was there, too.

  • 2
    My default reading of it is "On two previous occasions when I dined at Mike's, Richard Platt was there." I could have dined at Mike's any number of times (well, any number greater than or equal to two), but only on two of those occasions was Richard present.
    – Hellion
    Oct 10, 2013 at 16:06
  • Would it have been appropriate for the author to place a comma between “before” and “when”? It seems like that punctuation would make your suggested meaning even more clear. Oct 10, 2013 at 16:44
  • kih1930 You interpret the sentence correctly, but the structures are different. In the original sentence, before is ambiguous: it may be either a preposition or an adverb. It is only the possibility of its being a preposition which creates a 'slot' where you can put a NP, and thus makes it possible to read the when clause as a free relative. In this new sentence there is no preposition, no 'slot' for a NP, so the when clause must be an adverbial of time. Oct 10, 2013 at 23:32
  • And what about this one? I had beening jogging before when my boss shouted at me. It is about a specific occasion here, not about a general experience like the previous examples, in which case I would think "when" is unnecessary here, but I am not sure if my example is acceptable with "when" added. Obviously, here "before" must be a prep. What do you think? @StoneyB
    – Kinzle B
    Feb 23, 2014 at 1:00
  • @ZhanlongZheng 1) "had been" not "had beening" 2) Omitting when changes the meaning; which do you mean? Feb 23, 2014 at 2:23

Lets examine the difference between these two sentences:

I had been to dinner at Mike's twice before.

I had been to dinner at Mike's twice before when Richard Platt was there.

The first sentence means that you have only been to Mike's house twice before to eat dinner with him.

With regards to the second sentence, it is possible that you have been to Mike's house a hundred times before to eat a hundred different dinners. However, you have only been to eat dinner twice at Mike's house when Richard Platt was also there.

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