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I know this is not really a new question but . . .

I got a letter from John yesterday. We were at school but I lost touch with him because he was very ill and could not go to school anymore.

QUESTION #1: Here is my question. Will it be possible to use past simple for lost because if I receive a letter that means I am in touch again. So the action "lost" is completed or finished as soon as I get a letter. In that case, past perfect should be better. Right?

QUESTION #2: Same question for were at school. That means that I'm still at school with John at the time of receiving a letter. Right?

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  • AmE: The lost sounds fine. However, unless you are saying that you were at school at the moment you received the letter, I would not use "were" - "went to" would work. Oddly, this issue is also resolved in my ear by changing it to "We were at school together, but I lost touch with him..."
    – Adam
    Commented May 7, 2015 at 17:57

2 Answers 2

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"I lost touch with John. Then, I got a letter from him!"

is OK.

"I had lost touch with John, but then got a letter from him!"

is also OK.

In the first example, each sentence has a specific, completed time frame in the past. They do not need to relate to each other at all.

In the second, it is OK to mix the tenses (past perfect == had + past participle, and past perfect) in the way shown. The sense of time is: at the time that "you had...", an event ("got a letter") happened. It is now completed.

The problem with

We were at school but I lost touch with him...

is not that you keep the past perfect tense, but that the relative clause with the preposition "but I lost...." is not well-matched with the rest of the sentence.

Keeping the time and place senses, it might sound like you are saying "when we were at school, I lost touch with him", which is not quite clear. A listener might think: "Did you lose him somewhere in the school building?" (and in fact see @Adam's comment above - I believe he had the sense of time and place I describe when he read the sentence)

You probably want to say:

We went to school together, but I lost touch with him afterwards.

or

We attended school together, but I lost touch with him.

Either of the above are perfectly fine.

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If I interpret your example correctly, the use of past simple, in both cases, seems right to me, because the temporal context here (that time when you went to school together) is completely over. It looks merely like a narrative use of the past simple to me and I see no reason to establish anteriority with the past perfect.

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  • This answer doesn't address the second question asked Commented May 23 at 15:53

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