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  1. Alice walked to the door when the doorbell rang

  2. Alice walked to the door when the doorbell had rung

In (1) it is clear in which order the actions occured. The doorbell rang. Then, Alice walked to the door.

So would 'had rung' be still correct even though redundant? In other words, should 'had' necessarily be taken out?

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Example 1 is typical grammatical, idiomatic English.

Example 2 is awkward and doesn't really work as it stands.

It's as though something is missing, as in:

Alice walked to the door when the doorbell had rung four times.

This would make more sense and is acceptable, although it would be better to write:

Alice walked to the door after the doorbell had rung four times.

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  • Would it be possible to write "Alice walked to the door after the doorbell rang four times "because after indicates the order of the action. Past perfect does not seem to be necessary
    – user5577
    May 31 at 16:04
  • Perfectly possible. There's a grey area between past and perfect tenses. It's often just a matter of choice, depending on your preference and the structure of your text. May 31 at 16:24
  • Maybe the past perfect "had" is on the wrong verb. "Alice had walked to the door when the doorbell rang." would be fine.
    – alephzero
    Jun 1 at 2:45
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rung

Since you're saying "when," not "after," you're saying the two things happened in the same moment of time. Logically, we may surmise that the action of the doorbell ringing likely happens first and the action of walking to the door was her subsequent response, but by saying "when," you're semantically encasing both events in the same timespan or same moment of time, in the same "when" as each other, the two actions happening so hand-in-hand with each other that you have not parsed them into separate moments in the past but together in the same "when," so you would not use the pluperfect "had rung" but instead the present simple "rung," just like you did for "walked."

However, if you were to say "after" instead of "when," then you would not be including both actions in the same moment but conveying them in two separate past times, past times you are conveying anachronistically. Since you would be semantically first conveying the action of walking to the door and second conveying the action of the doorbell ringing as happening not later, how time normally progresses, but instead further in the past, you would use the pluperfect "had rung," the pluperfect being for when you anachronistically cast a second mentioned action further into the past than a prior mentioned action.

By saying "when," though, you don't do that but associate the two events so closely in time that you have her walking to the door happening "when" the doorbell ringing happens, not after. It's not an illogical thing to say, either, because a doorbell takes a couple seconds to ring, meaning she very well could've started walking to the door when the doorbell was still ringing, like anywhere between the start of the "ding" and the finish of the "dong," and that's if it's a standard doorbell chime and not some musical chime that plays 10, 20, or however many seconds of a melody.

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  • okay, I am now convinced that using 'after' is more precise. However, I don't understand how 'when' is related to simultaneous action. There seems to be a difference between 1) Alice walked to the door when the doorbell rang 2) Alice was walking to the door when the doorbell rang (1) Implies sequence while (2) is clearly conveying simultaneousness. Can you please elaborate?
    – adik
    Jun 1 at 9:14

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