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In these two sentences, do "when" and "before" mean the same? Can they be used interchangeably?

I had worked for that company when I left.

I had worked for that company before I left.

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    When you left what? The company? The country? What is the context? When did you work for the company, and when did you leave whatever it was? Commented May 18, 2020 at 4:55
  • Yes, the sentence lacks the context. Commented May 18, 2020 at 4:58
  • Sorry for the vague meaning. I left the company. Commented May 18, 2020 at 5:13
  • It's not logically possible to have had worked for the company either when you left or before you left. If you'd worked there in the past, then it's not possible for you to leave it when you're no longer there—or to have left it before you left it. In short, neither of the sentences make sense if you're talking about leaving a company that you've already left. Commented May 18, 2020 at 6:00
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    Actually, if I add "for three years" to the sentence, for example, I think both are correct. "I had worked for that company for three years when /before I left it. Commented May 18, 2020 at 10:54

1 Answer 1

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Your sentence lacks the context. "I left ..." what? It may be the town, the country, and the like.

I had worked for that company when I left (the town).

Here, the time conjunction 'when' means that the first action ("to work for that company") was quite separate from the second action ("to leave").

I had worked for that company before I left (the town).

Here, the time conjunction 'before' implies the completion of the first action before the second started.

But if the first action is not separate from the second, i.e., one action caused the other, then the simple past tense is used, instead of the past perfect, in the when-clause : "When I opened the window, the cat jumped out." (More natural than "When I had opened . . .").

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  • Sorry for the vague meaning. I left the company. Commented May 18, 2020 at 5:15
  • Ok, I've assumed it : 'I left the town'. However, 'when' is used with the past perfect to mean the first action is separate from the second. Commented May 18, 2020 at 5:20
  • This is fine. One can say: when I left or before I left is the interlocutor knows from where.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 20, 2023 at 18:12

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