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______ Norma Jean had reached the age of twenty-six, her beautiful face and body earned her a place as one of America's leading movie stars

My answer : once

Correct answer: by the time

Could you please explain why my answer is not OK. I feel like once suits there.

Source of the dialog

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1 Answer 1

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We use 'once' to discuss a situation where something could not happen, or was not possible, before the event specified. It means 'as soon as, or from the moment when'.

Once I was aged eighteen, I was able to vote.
Once the house is finished, I can start to live in it.

We use 'by the time' to say that, at the time specified, something had already happened. or will happen.

By the time I was aged eighteen, I had taken up smoking, learned to drive, and become fond of beer.

By the time I get to Phoenix she'll be rising [from bed]

Clearly, Norma Jean did not earn her place as one of America's leading movie stars on her twenty-sixth birthday; she had already done that.

As @MarcInManhattan points out, we also know that it happened before her 26th birthday because of the past perfect: "had reached". A strict editor or careful writer would have made the following verb in the past perfect, too, but English speakers are often very loose with verb tenses. This is especially true when they are speaking (this is a transcript of a spoken dialogue).

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    This is a good answer. I'll just add that we know that it happened before her 26th birthday because of the past perfect: "had reached". Many people would say that the following verb ("earned") should therefore be in the past perfect, too, but English speakers are often very loose with verb tenses. Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 16:04
  • @MarcInManhattan - Yes, the verbs should agree, really. Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 17:31
  • @MarcInManhattan or they should be reversed. Clearly "earned" happens before "reach", so the way they are now is wrong
    – gotube
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 22:36
  • Also, more specifically, this sentence appears to be about Norma Jean Mortenson (Marilyn Monroe) and her breakthrough as a movie start in 1952–53.
    – Davislor
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 0:05
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    @MarcInManhattan I'll bet the script said "had earned", but the narrator slipped up and they didn't bother fixing it.
    – Barmar
    Commented Aug 30, 2022 at 16:05

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