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According to the answer key section the correct tense to use in the second sentence is Past Simple. I wonder whether it is possible to use the Past Perfect tense form "had written" here. Please, give reasons if possible or not.

On January 10, 1845, Robert Browning, a little-known poet and playwright, sent a letter to Elizabeth Barrett, an internationally renowned poet, an invalid, after reading her volume of poetry. Over the course of the next 20 months, they wrote/had written each other close to 600 letters.

What if one views this situation outside the time-reference context provided? Meaning if one emphasizes the fact that 600 letters within that period of time is quite a big number. So, the focus in this case is on the result (the number of the letters). By now they are clearly dead. Their correspondence took place while they were alive long time ago. Their lives are part of the past already. Their '600 letters' within 20 months can be viewed as some result.

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    It's almost impossible to imagine a "surrounding" context which is focused on some time after those 600 letters had been written, so for all practical purposes - No, you can't use Past Perfect there. Past Perfect requires that the "narrative reference time" should be some time in the past, but later than the events / actions referenced by Past Perfect (so we can talk about "the past within the past"). Nov 10, 2023 at 20:17
  • Please edit your question to tell us what you already understand about the past perfect and why you think might be correct here.
    – gotube
    Nov 10, 2023 at 20:18
  • What if one views this situation outside the time-reference context provided? Meaning if one emphasizes the fact that 600 letters within that period of time is quite a big number. So, the focus in this case is on the result (the number of the letters). By now they are clearly dead. Their correspondence took place while they were alive long time ago. Their lives are part of the past already. Their '600 letters' within 20 months can be viewed as some result. Nov 12, 2023 at 7:00

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There is no need, quite simply, for past perfect here. It always comes before some event in the simple past either stated or implied. Your text has neither.

On the contrary, he sent her a letter and then they had the exchange of 600 letters. Another tense here can be:

Over the next six months, they would write each other close to 600 letters.

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  • Hi! I upvoted your good answer! I will never know if English is your mother language! Nov 13, 2023 at 11:29
  • @MariosAthanasiou If you cannot see it, I cannot convince you. Oeuf corse, it is my mother tongue. And I have no idea why you think it isn't.
    – Lambie
    Nov 13, 2023 at 15:09
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A short answer: no

A slightly longer answer: Past Perfect is used mainly for an action that happened before another past action. So "Over the course of the next 20 months" is clearly contradictory to "they had written"

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  • What if one views this situation outside the time-reference context provided? Meaning if one emphasizes the fact that 600 letters within that period of time is quite a big number. So, the focus in this case is on the result (the number of the letters). By now they are clearly dead. Their correspondence took place while they were alive long time ago. Their lives are part of the past already. Their '600 letters' within 20 months can be viewed as some result. Nov 11, 2023 at 18:43

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