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I found this sentence in Persuasion by Jane Austen:

Till he came and had examined the child, their apprehensions were the worst for being vague; they suspected great injury, but knew not where; but now the collar-bone was soon replaced...

I am surprised by the use of he came next to had examined in this sentence.  I am puzzled because different tenses (or aspects, or whatever they are) usually indicate different times.  Looking at this reference question, we see the following explanations:

  • Past simple (e.g., "he came" or "I ate"): "at a point in the past."
  • Past perfect (e.g., "[he] had examined" or "I had eaten"): "before a point in the past."

If anything, Austen's sentence is backwards, because the tenses suggest that "he" examined the child before he came, which (in this context) seems impossible.

Could someone explain the grammar? Having read all the comments, I hope to get new ones to explain this grammar issue.

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  • 1
    I'd mark it wrong in a modern essay ('Unil he came and examined ...' ) but but right in a classic from that era. Jul 7 at 15:30
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    I think it's fine, albeit a slightly unusual mix of tenses. Most writers in most similar contexts would probably use Past Perfect had come before Simple Past examined. But using the Perfect for both would be "clunky", and Simple Past for both would be a bit, well, simple. To my mind, the version actually used carries a slightly stronger allusion to the time between the doctor arriving and giving his diagnosis, during which period we might suppose that anxiety and apprehension were at a maximum before finally being relieved / released. Jul 7 at 15:36
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    I would not second guess writers like these, and I would assume they are writing standard English for their times. Till I came to this question and had answered it, I wasn't sure what to think.
    – Lambie
    Jul 7 at 15:58
  • How can it be "wrong"? It's by a native speaker who is furthermore an acclaimed writer. English learners are never taught everything about English, just a few basic guidelines to get them started. When you find something from a native speaker that isn't in your existing set of rules that you've been given, assume the flaw is in your teacher not in the literary giant.
    – tchrist
    Jul 7 at 20:57
  • @FumbleFingers: But if one said “Till he had come and examined the child, …”, the sentence would make more temporal sense without being “clunky”, and it would be ambiguous whether “examined” was Past Simple or an elided “had examined” (without any ambiguity in meaning).
    – Scott
    Jul 7 at 20:59
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Such usage is typically related to the period of time when the writer wrote these sentences. So, it is correct, but not by today's standards.

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  • This would be improved by including some details as to why it's not considered correct by today's standards and some supporting evidence that it was generally acceptable at the time it was written.
    – KillingTime
    Jul 7 at 16:20
  • Are there any more comments on this sentence yet?
    – Wojtek
    Jul 7 at 18:44
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I have some presumption but I am not sure. Michael Swan, a well-distinguished grammarian, gives an explanation on this issue, albeit not exactly the same. Past perfect tense can emphasise the idea of completion. His example is a bit different and it is as follows, I waited until the rain had stopped. When it comes to my sentence, I presume that 'had examined' means putting emphasis on the fact of completing the examination. And until he came shows the duration of waiting. However, I am not sure if I am right.

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