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  1. I felt ill because I had drunk six cups of coffee.
  2. I felt ill because I drank six cups of coffee.

I think both of them are correct. Do they differ in meaning?

I looked at this question here::

That question is about when to use the participles drank and drunk. This question's about whether we do or do not need to use a past perfect in the subordinate clause of a sentence like this. The linked-to post doesn't answer my question.

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  • Somehow this question got closed as a duplicate of ell.stackexchange.com/questions/37208/… That question is about when to use the participles drank and drunk. This question is about whether or why we do or do not need to use a past perfect in a sentence like this. The key issue is whether the word before makes any difference. The two questions are: completely totally and utterly unrelated. – ColleenV Oct 20 '15 at 14:00
  • @ColleenV Have reedited the question. That version any better? – Araucaria Oct 20 '15 at 14:03
  • @Araucaria You're putting words in the mouth of the asker, so I don't really think it's better. I'm willing to listen to the case that it needs to be reopened, but I don't think we should hijack the question. – ColleenV Oct 20 '15 at 14:05
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TL/DR: In colloquial English, you should be fine using simple past tense to describe the reason that something occurred, as it can be considered concurrent (and thus doesn't violate the requirement that events must follow in order to use simple past).

Full Answer

Let's take your questions in the order they appear:

Do the two examples differ in meaning?

No, they do not. And colloquially, both sentences are correct as many English speakers will use drank for both simple past and past perfect.

Do we...need to use a past perfect in the subordinate clause of a sentence like this?

In colloquial English, no. The argument could be made for both simple past and past perfect.

One one hand, the effect is being described before the cause (feeling ill is coming before the drinking of the coffee), thus breaking the rule of simple past's first-to-last order. This would mean using past perfect.

On the other hand, the subordinate clause is describing a reason for the independent clause (drinking that much coffee MADE me ill), thus can also be considered concurrent. This, of course, would mean using simple past.

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