I wanted to say that initially they had their masks on but then their masks came off. I said,

When they first came, they had their masks on. Then they came off."

Does it imply that they came more than once when I say, "when they first came?" Do the first and the second sentences say the same thing?

  • Hi Abhinav, and welcome to ELL. Have you taken the tour? Please ask only one question at a time. Jul 20, 2021 at 8:30
  • We mean this tour.
    – fev
    Jul 20, 2021 at 8:35
  • To be unambiguous, you could say, "When they first arrived..."
    – gotube
    Jul 20, 2021 at 20:42

1 Answer 1


"When they first came" is understood to mean "at the start", and doesn't imply that they came a second time.

The problem with your second sentence is pronoun confusion. "They" in the first sentence means "the people". But in the second sentence "they" means "the masks". It is understandable, but confusing. You can't tell that "they" means "masks" until you have heard and understood the second half of the sentence. The second half is even more confusing because it uses "came" with a different meaning from the first sentence. That makes it a "garden path sentence", which is bad style.

It would be better to phrase the second sentence as "Then they took them off." This phrasing doesn't lead the listener "down the garden path".

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