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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

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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.

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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.

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  • OK, it's clear that it's clear. But why is it WRONG?
    – user1425
    Nov 27, 2022 at 9:35
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    It would be more natural to say "I arrived after he had left." But when doesn't seem glaringly wrong to me. 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) Nov 27, 2022 at 11:42

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