2

A story of a guy who was supposed to pick his parents on time at the airport but he left late.

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

I quickly set off for Heathrow airport, but it's one of the biggest airports in the world! I had no idea which terminal they (arrived/had arrived) at!

The last narrative event is had (I don't think it is the setting off), so it is the RT (reference time). At this point of time he brings their past arrival event to represent his current state of not knowing where they are. This interpretation/inference is supported by describing Heathrow as one of the biggest airports in the world which makes it difficult to quickly know where they are.

Before yesterday, which was just a few hours ago!, the criteria of choosing arrived or had arrived wasn't narrative/cutaway perfect way of thinking. Instead it was based on more or less an order of events! What a shame!

Am I right? To all and esp. to @StoneyB because I claim to be his student!

Update: I forgot to state that the chosen form is had arrived. I haven't slept yet and it's almost dawn!

  • 2
    Reality trumps grammar here. You cannot use either past or past perfect you know that they have arrived; even if you are speaking of a post-8:30 RT, you cannot from your narrative PoV know whether in fact they did arrive at the appointed time. As you drove you most likely said something on the order of "I have no idea which terminal they're arriving at"; backshifted, that would be "I had no idea which terminal they were arriving (or were supposed to arrive, or whatever) rat". Anyway, in my experience you're safe until at least 9 o'clock. :) – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 31 '13 at 0:55
  • When I wrote "he brings their past arrival event to represent his current state of not knowing where they are" I was thinking of the past perfect because that's when we bring an earlier event to the RT, but now I see that I did not state that in the post. No, I did not mean the past simple or both. I'll update the post to reflect so! – learner Dec 31 '13 at 4:08
  • I think you need past perfect here (given the choices between past simple and past perfect). Because you are telling a story that you had no idea about something which probably had happened already. – Damkerng T. Dec 31 '13 at 4:16
  • Surely this should be moved to english.stackexchange.com; they love questions involving complicated grammatical terminology. How is anyone learning -- or even teaching english -- supposed to understand this? – Martin F Feb 16 '14 at 3:47
1

English is my mother tongue. English is a hobby of mine. But everything after that quote went straight over my head.

Because English is so unbearably loose about everything, the two are (almost) interchangeable, but "had arrived" is preferable. When talking in the past, each statement can (almost) be treated in their own right. So let's just pull the statement out and have a look.

"I had no idea which terminal they (arrived/had arrived) at!"

Because their arrival can only be written in the past tense (your only options are past tense), you know that they arrived before he came to be aware that he had no idea where they were.

You have two verbs describing two actions, and one happens before the other. The one that happens first employs the pluperfect (had arrived) and the one that happens second takes the imperfect (I had no idea (in this example at least)).

Had arrived is what you're after here. But then, English is loose.

0

In the first part of your story you show a firm grasp of tenses:

I finally finished tidying about 3 a.m. and a few minutes later I was fast asleep. I woke up suddenly at 8 a.m. I had arranged to meet my parents at the airport at 8.30 a.m. but I hadn't set the alarm! ... I quickly set off for Heathrow airport, but it's one of the biggest airports in the world!

This is all straightforward narrative, in which each past-tense action (finish, be asleep, wake up*, set off) follows the preceding one. The two past perfects are used to introduce prior actions which have at that point become relevant to the current action.

I had no idea which terminal they (arrived/had arrived) at!

The verb construction you employ here depends on the ‘facts-on-the-ground’—in this case, quite literally ‘on the ground’! This is a POV (point of view) narrative, in which we experience the story as you experienced it. One of three things must be true:

  1. This realization struck you at a time when you knew (or believed) that the airplane was already on the ground. In this case the arrival is a prior event giving rise to the current state “they have arrived” and you would write:

    I had no idea which terminal they had arrived at!

  2. This realization struck you at precisely the time when you knew (or believed) that the plane was coming to the ground. In this case the arrival is an event currently in progress and you would write:

    I had no idea which terminal they were arriving at!

  3. This realization struck you at a time before the time when you knew (or believed) that the plane would touch. In this case the arrival is a future event; and you have several choices, all of which amount to the same thing:

    I had no idea which terminal they were to arrive at!
    I had no idea which terminal they were going to arrive at!
    I had no idea which terminal they were supposed to arrive at!
    I had no idea which terminal they would arrive at!
    I had no idea which terminal they would be arriving at!
        and even (since a present form may be understood as a future reference)
    I had no idea which terminal they were arriving at!

But I had no idea which terminal they arrived at! is right out, because that shifts the narrative POV outside your own experience at the time.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.