I thought that in this case past perfect must be used (because of the sequence of tenses), yet this sentence comes from a grammar textbook (published in 2005).

What do I misunderstand about the sequence of tenses rule?

  • Sequence of tenses applies to indirect speech. You haven't given any indication that there's any indirect speech here.
    – SamBC
    Feb 10, 2019 at 16:20
  • @ SamBC Here is an example from grammarly (grammarly.com/blog/sequence-of-tenses): The cat was bathing because his feet are dirty. (Incorrect) The cat was bathing because his feet were dirty. (Correct) Could you please provide a reference that this rule applies exclusively to indirect speech?
    – Zak
    Feb 10, 2019 at 16:44
  • That's not sequence of tenses, that's just tenses being consistent.
    – SamBC
    Feb 10, 2019 at 16:53
  • 1
    Your example in the title, both the main verb and the phrase qualifying "students" are in the simple past.
    – SamBC
    Feb 10, 2019 at 16:54

1 Answer 1


It is rare that the past perfect is required. It can be used to emphasise the sequence of events. So

I went to a reunion of students who had been educated in the 1950s.

is fully correct English. But using the past tense

.... who were educated in the 1950s

Is also correct. It doesn't emphasise the fact that their education had finished prior to the reunion, but perhaps that is obvious.

If you change the situation, the past perfect might be required:

I saw three men who were eating.

I saw three men who had been eating.

Clearly there is a change of meaning here.

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