I went to a cafe after I had left Amar. I had just sat down when Emily walked in. After we had a coffee, we talked about my relationship with my ex-boyfriend Andy back in the USA. She did not know that I had got engaged to him that we had planned to get married I explained that we split up a few weeks before I came to the UK because he had cheated on me. I suppose I still love Andy, even though we had a terrible row when I found out he had lied to me. Anyway, by the time I left the cafe I had started to get worried. It was four o'clock Rob and I still hadn't arranged where to meet for our date tonight. And I couldn't phone him because I had left my cellphone in my room and I couldn't remember his number. When I got back, I found a text that Rob had sent me.
It had arrived earlier in the afternoon while I was out.

Here is my first question: Would have been possible to write "It arrived" instead of "It had arrived"? I ask, because it seems obvious that Rob arrived before she found the note ("while I was out") and she found the note after she was back home.

  • 4
    Your "narrative time" at the point in question is When I got back, so it would be normal to use past perfect to refer to the earlier arrival of the text, just as you used past perfect to refer to Rob had sent it. Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 18:37
  • 3
    Why is there so much space between "...down" and "when Emily.."? It may cause confusion. Even at first I myself thought they were two separate sentences.
    – M.A.R.
    Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 18:39
  • The passage does not say that "Rob arrived". Instead, the passage says that "a text that Rob had sent" arrived. This passage uses "a text" as a short form for "a text message that is sent electronically".
    – Jasper
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 1:47

3 Answers 3


while I was out indicates a period of time, not a point in time. So I think it is better to stay with had arrived.

But either one would be understood OK.


I agree with user3169, it should be had arrived.

My logic: The entire paragraph is written in past tense, so the past perfect being used here denotes the action was before the past tense it was written in.


I must disagree with user3169. "Earlier in the afternoon" actually points to a particular moment in time, despite of its being not exactly known. Perfect tense is not appropriate IMHO, use Past Indefinite: "It arrived earlier in the afternoon while I was out".

  • Why isn't perfect tense appropriate? It seems fine and normal to me. Commented Sep 8, 2015 at 23:04
  • Exactly for the reason I pointed out in my answer. Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 12:16
  • I think it is totally up to how you parse the sentence. Normally, as @VictorBazarov said, you don't want to tack on specifiers like "earlier in the afternoon" or "at 2pm" to the past perfect tense (or any perfect tense). But it is okay to have them "inside" the verb phrase. "I had [eaten lunch at 3pm], so I wasn't hungry at dinnertime" vs "[I had eaten lunch] at 3pm, so I wasn't hungry at dinnertime". As long as the [...] is short and cohesive enough, the valid parse is possible. But if it's lengthy/wordy, the "at 3pm" part now modifies the entire clause, which is invalid syntax. Commented Nov 7, 2015 at 23:01

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