SOURCE (Indian civil service exam; one of dozens)

The second pigeon flew just as the first pigeon had flown.

A) No improvement B) one had done C) one had flown away D) had done

Which part, among the parts given above, is appropriate for the bold part in the above given sentence ?

I tried to find answer on google but got contradictory answers, somewhere its B as answer somewhere C. To my ears options B sounds best among all options. Perhaps it would have been better with one had flown but that's not in any of the given alternative.

  • "Google" will not provide answers to questions of grammar and usage in English. The search engine is just an index of countless texts written by people whose native language is frequently not English (such as the authors of the Indian civil service exam from which this question was taken.) Jul 18, 2017 at 19:10
  • 1
    If the sentence is supposed to mean that the birds flew in the same manner as each other, there is nothing wrong.
    – Adam
    Jul 18, 2017 at 19:26
  • If I felt I had to improve this sentence and had to choose one of those options, I would probably go with (D). Jul 18, 2017 at 22:23

3 Answers 3

  1. The second pigeon flew

This is the simple past.
We also learn a previous pigeon had performed the same action earlier.

  1. …just as the first pigeon had flown.

This is the past perfect tense.
The original sentence could remain as it is, but a good writer will probably sense that writing the term pigeon, or repeating the same verb fly twice is redundant. In order to overcome this, a pronoun is needed to substitute “pigeon”.

  1. …just as the first one had flown.

Now, I quite like this version but it is not included in the multiple choice. The closest equivalent is C) …one had flown away. The adverb away, in this context, means “further from a place, thing or person”, and “fly away” is a very common collocation. So, the OP could choose C).

  1. C) …just as the first one had flown away

If the writer wanted to use a pronoun, and avoid repeating the same verb, the auxiliary verb, do, is used.

  1. B) The second pigeon flew just as the first one had done

Here, the adverb away is not mentioned at all, if had been added to the first clause, then the second clause would fit perfectly,e.g. “The second pigeon flew away just as the first one had done.”

There is the construction do + so, where different forms of do so substitutes the verb, and its complement. e.g. a) The second pigeon returned to its coop just as the first one had done so. b) They asked me to revise the essay and I did so (= I revised the essay.) c) Dangerous currents. Anyone who swims here does so at their own peril. In the OP's example there is no complement in The first pigeon flew and therefore "so" is not required.

For more information about Do as a substitute verb, visit the Cambridge Dictionary Grammar website.

D) is incorrect because a noun or pronoun is missing:

  1. D)…just as the first had done

The first what? It might be a white dove, or a duck for all we know.

So all this boils down to personal preference, and style. There is nothing grammatically incorrect with clauses B) or C), either one, in my opinion, is appropriate.


All are bad. The sentence is a muddled jumble. D is probably best.

To express similarity of flight...

The second pigeon flew just like the first.

The second pigeon flew just like the first pigeon flew.

To express concurrency of flight or as it's worded, flying.

The second pigeon flew while the first pigeon flew.

The second pigeon flew while the first pigeon was flying.

To express concurrency of taking to flight (i.e. going from perch to flight) use similar constructs. The use of "also" further reinforces concurrency over similarity.

The first pigeon took flight (or more commonly "took off") just as the second was [also] taking flight (taking off).

One pigeon took flight just as the other took flight.

The words "just as" create some confusion in your sentence since "just as" as you used it is more likely to express concurrency over similarity. Additionally, there is an issue with "flew". I think you mean "took flight". Your sentence as it's worded, however, tends to express similarity while using the concurrent form.

  • 2
    Tempted to +1 just for muddled jumble. But I see nothing amiss in "The second pigeon flew just as the first had done." (The problematic preterit of fly was provided by the author of the exam, who was not a native English speaker.) Jul 18, 2017 at 19:09
  • 1
    I don't consider it muddled jumble at all, actually. Perhaps not elegant, but neither incomprehensible nor at all improbable in terms of the structure. In fact, if you want to stress the manner instead of the fact of the flight, it might even be preferable to say "flown" instead of "done". But in any case, repeating rather than pronominalizing is always a stylistic option. Jul 18, 2017 at 22:18

I disagree with both answers. All the four option are possible. The D version being rather informal. The rest is only a matter of style and emphasis. However both B and D improve the sentence.

Of all the options, clearly "C" isn't the best one (it doesn't improve anything). I would go with "B", which is a very brief and suitable option.

  • It's not a question of grammaticality but of "improvement". Which solution is better? A) is saying the best version is the sample one.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 1, 2017 at 18:50
  • @Mari-LouA Indeed it is all about making the sentence brief and easier to read. So my choice would be B, which I think is the best option. Nov 2, 2017 at 4:08

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