EF: The past perfect refers to a time earlier than before now. It is used to make it clear that one event happened before another in the past. It does not matter which event is mentioned first - the tense makes it clear which one happened first.
In the early stages of working with the past perfect, applying a rule that describes our understanding of temporal events is very useful. The most important thing to remember, however, is that time and tense are two distinct concepts. Tense does not define time; it is a grammatical convention that allows the narrator to describe the time in a story (more about Tense and Time at English Club).
In the example sentence,
- She told me that a man in a black mask had come up to her and mugged her just in the middle of the street.
there are three separate references of time:
- The inferred present of the narrator telling the story
- The simple past (relative to the narrator's present) when the narrator was told of the events. She told me
- Time before the simple past of number 2 when events A and B occurred.
A. a man in a black mask had come up to her
B. and mugged her
Whether event B is interpreted as a perfectly proper past perfect expression where mugged shares the had with come by means of the conjunction (and), or a simple past with an elided (he) mugged to imply indignation toward the violence of the mugging event, is a matter that must be decided by the readers' experience and understanding of what sounds right to them.
Could someone please explain why don't we use Past Perfect twice in
One answer, as it is explained elsewhere, is that using the second had would be redundant (or less concise, perhaps) because of how the sentence is constructed: had (come up, mugged).
A second answer that addresses the inference of:
I thought it was supposed to be had come up and had mugged because both of those actions happened before she told, as tense
Tense is used to express temporal coordination. Number 2, above, is an expression of a distinct time in relation to the time reference of number 3. It functions separately from the subsequent events because the act of telling the narrator, in this example, is logically understood to happen after the time of number 3 (i.e., it is illogical not to understand that telling the story must happen after the events of the story, so additional temporal clues are not necessary to maintain clarity).
As such, all of the tenses of grammar that exist for our narrator in time, number 1, also exist for the time, number 2, when our she tells the narrator about the events.
To simplify this point, instead of presenting a mixed tense for A and B, consider:
- She had told me that a man in a black mask came up to her and mugged her just in the middle of the street.
The narrator sets the anteriority in the past perfect, and describes the events A and B in the simple past. Logically, it is not normal for the narrator to have been told of the events prior to them happening. When the logic is clear, like it is here, the storyteller has much freedom for creativity. Because the sequence of events are not difficult to follow, experienced readers probably would not have difficulty understanding the timeline.
In this example, the choice of construction, for some, can serve to facilitate the recession of the told action, in favor of bringing the plot action forward to emphasize its relative importance over the exposition. In the original example, the choice is more limited because the mixed tense may not really be mixed depending on who is reading it. In every instance, these subtle variations are tools that writers may employ to guide readers to interpret their meaning in the way they intend. Once the story is in front of the readers, only the readers can decide what the text means to them.
See more about:
ELL answer Past Simple or Past Perfect Perfect
Cambridge Dictionary: Grammar Time and Tense