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I found this sentence in Persuasion by Jane Austen:

Till he came and had examined the child, their apprehensions were the worst for being vague; they suspected great injury, but knew not where; but now the collar-bone was soon replaced..

I don't understand why it is not "had been the worst" because their apprehensions were vague before the child had been examined.They came and had these apprehensions then after the child had been examined they were gone. They knew exactly what the child suffered from.

Could it mean that they still have apprehensions after the child examination? , I don't think so .

May be as the sequence of time is crystal clear we can use past simple ? There is no possible confusion especially because there is only one event the examination so past simple can do it

I know the structure of the sentence is a bit special.

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The constituents of the sentence can be reordered so:

Their apprehensions were the worst for being vague till he came and had examined the child.

Notice had examined. The examination takes place after his arrival, and his arrival takes place after their apprehensions had begun. And yet the past perfect is used of the more recent event. The past perfect is used there to indicate the examination had been completed, as examination is a process.

There is no grammatical requirement to put were in the past perfect and say had been, and indeed, for Austen to have done so would have made her sentence clunky:

Their apprehensions were had been the worst for being vague till he came and had examined the child.

or in the original order:

Till he came and had examined the child, their apprehensions were had been the worst for being vague; ...

We would have two verbs in the past perfect (had been, had examined) and been and being would be jostling.

They would have continued to worry during the examination. Their fears were the worst because they didn't know the extent of the injury, but once the examination had been completed they then knew the extent of the injury, and the worst aspect of their worry was alleviated:

[T]hey suspected great injury, but knew not where; but now the collar-bone was soon replaced.

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  • So with were the worry disappears at the beginning of the examination with had been at the end of examination?
    – Yves Lefol
    Nov 12, 2023 at 12:43
  • @YvesLefol The meaning is not entailed by the choice of tense. The past perfect had examined simply indicates the examination had been completed. But from context (the narrative details) we understand that their worry was alleviated once they knew the extent of the injury, and that is only after the examination was completed, and presumably the physician had informed them of the findings.
    – TimR
    Nov 12, 2023 at 13:21

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