Five days later, Mr Clark was at the docks. He had left the house and now he was watching their ship leave to the United States without him or his family. When the ship disappeared in the horizon, he stood up and went back home, crying.

I don't understand why it is not "had disappeared" because we can imagine the scene: Mr Clark was sitting and watching the ship leave for the USA, then once the ship had totally disappeared and the action of watching was completed he stood up . Even if the events are in chronological order would it better to use past perfect to emphasize the disappearance and of course the sadness of Mr Clark.


2 Answers 2


We can use the structure [ "when" + simple past + simple past ] to describe a sequence of events, one happening right after the other. Consider these examples:

When the phone rang, I answered it.
I shouted "HERE!" when I heard my name.

In both situations, the event in the main clause happens right after and because of the event of the subordinate ("when") clause. The same is true in your sample sentence.

If the writer were merely describing the chronological order of when the ship disappeared and when he stood up and went home, then yes, past perfect would work. But the writer's intent is that the ship disappearing was the event that triggered him standing up and going back home, like he was waiting for it to disappear before he stood up.


The past perfect is used for mentioning things that happened before the incident being described. Here, the only thing that happened before the scene at the docks was Mr Clark leaving home - he had left the house.

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