This is an exercise from Face2Face English course with the solution provided in the workbook, but with no reasoning.

In the exercise below I would like to know (actually confirm mine) the Reference Time, and if there is any level of relationship between coordinating conjunctions and the sentence tense. For example, if, under some circumstances, the tense in the sentence before and after "and/but" is the same when there are no other clues such as time expressions.

I finally finished tidying about 3 a.m. and a few minutes later I was/had been fast asleep. I woke up suddenly at 8 a.m. I arranged/had arranged to meet my parents at the airport at 8.30 a.m. but I didn't set/hadn't set the alarm!

To be specific, do you put both arrange and set in the same tense, or one of them in the past perfect and the other in the past simple (the course provides the answers but I want to know why, and know other speakers' opinions (esp. natives) other than the authors - sometimes there is more room for differences and I want to to know that?

-Usually, the arrangement is done before setting the alarm, but do you treat them as indefinite events with no order before the reference time? what is the reference time in the text (this one is not given, but I can think of one)?

Note: I could have written the exercise with just the answers and asked for the reasoning only, but I think it is better not to influence your answers by the author's. I could be wrong, but what I really want is to understand why.

  • 1
    Just want to check myself. (I've just read up to the quoted passage.) Are the answers: was, had arranged, and didn't set? --Just saw that suddenly at 8 a.m. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 12:50
  • This is tricky. After I saw that suddenly at 8 a.m. I think had been is better than was, though was doesn't sound wrong to me. Waiting for the answers patiently... :) Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 12:57
  • You're definitely welcome. Was is right, but arranged and set (are different to the author's) - You did as I did the first time! We're much alike @DamkerngT. If you still want the answers before I get others posts I can send them off by email for example. I can still post them here if you want to.
    – learner
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 13:03
  • I never thought of that, then let me try to invite you cause I've never tried it before. If I could not I would let you know. To the chat room,...
    – learner
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 13:07
  • 1
    We already have a public chat room for ELL: chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/7227/english-language-learners. If you don't mind talking in public. Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 13:08

1 Answer 1


I finished ... I was fast asleep ... I woke up at 8 a.m. are ordinary narrative past forms in which RT moves forward with succeeding events.

When you hit 8 a.m., however, you find you must allude to events which occurred before RT, your arrangement with your parents and your failure to set the alarm. These two prior events—or this prior event and prior non-event!—give rise to the distressing state in which you found yourself at RT, 8 a.m. Consequently you should employ the past perfect:

I had arranged to meet my parents at the airport at 8:30 a.m. but I hadn't set the alarm!

This does not express any particular chronological sequence in the prior events because it does not 'express' the prior events per se: it alludes to the prior events as causes of your current (i.e. at RT = 8 a.m.) state of having to scramble to make your appointment.

  • Just Beautiful! You've already answered most of the issues if not all, but let me read your answer again and think of some [maybe] more questions for you because I think I could learn more out of the scenario than it was supposed to do.
    – learner
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 13:25
  • I'm sorry for the typo the pick up time at the airport is at 8.30 a.m. not 8 a.m, and I believe the moving RT was at when he woke up at 8 a.m. cause that is the last event he did before he talks about the arrangement.
    – learner
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 15:45
  • "[he] alludes to the prior events as causes of your current (i.e. at RT = 8 .30 a.m.) state of having missed your appointment." = the author was not in "narrative mode" of listing the events in the "story" but switched to "reasoning mode! if you wish" explaining the current state at RT by mentioning the causative events before RT.
    – learner
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 16:03
  • If sleeping late which was narrated in the story was one of the causes of the current distressing state, can I still refer to it using the past perfect tense? i.e "I had fast slept late"? or it is a choice because it's already mentioned in the story in clear order?
    – learner
    Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 16:09
  • 1
    @learner 1) I've corrected the time references and the nature of the current state. 2) You're still in 'narrative' mode, "located" at 8 am; you're just performing what I call in the Canonical Post a "cutaway perfect" to introduce, by the reader's inference, your current state. 3) Yes, "I had slept late" is fine - because at 8 am you are no longer asleep! :) Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 19:05

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