Is it true that "I arrived when he had (already) left." is wrong?

It (supposedly) should be:

When I arrived he had (already) left.

Is it really a mistake which natives don't usually make or is it just one of those rules which is written for students and neglected by natives?

2 Answers 2


The sentence is correct and natural.

"When he had left" is an adverbial time clause that refers to the period of time starting from the time he left.


It's clear that if he had already left, you arrived AFTER his departure. So WHEN is wrong here.

However, you could say: WHEN I arrived, he had already left.

  • OK, it's clear that it's clear. But why is it WRONG?
    – user1425
    Commented Nov 27, 2022 at 9:35
  • 2
    It would be more natural to say "I arrived after he had left." But when doesn't seem glaringly wrong to me. Commented Nov 27, 2022 at 10:11
  • @KateBunting - I'm sorry that I never knew Anelka, because I arrived when he had already left. The Guardian, 2001 - I arrived when he had already half finished. I was not present at the beginning The Invention of Eyeglasses (Edward Rosen) Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences Vol. 11, No. 1 (January, 1956) - the otter was a very respected animal, and I arrived when he had just finished cooking one. Report of Hudson Bay Programme (Canada) Commented Nov 27, 2022 at 11:42

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