I was practicing tenses and came across the following sentence:

When Sally ______ her first pay, she bought presents for her parents.

The right answer is received. However, from my point of view, the first action which is receiving the pay is done before the action buying and so it's better to use had received. Am I right?

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    While yes, technically speaking, she received her pay before buying the presents, the construction does not indicate this. Using "when" indicates that two things happened at the same time, not separately. – fireeeeeeeee Nov 3 '15 at 22:30
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    The two actions are presented as a sequence: – G. Ann - SonarSource Team Nov 4 '15 at 0:09
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    If you wanted to indicate that the second action depended on the first having already occurred (that is, that you would have needed past perfect) then the sentence probably would have started with "Once Sally..." – Jason Patterson Nov 4 '15 at 1:30

If by logic or practical reasoning you can tell which action happened first, you do not need to worry about using the past perfect. The same is true when a conjunction makes it clear which event happened first.

Consider the following:

I opened my door and stumbled down the steps.

After I ordered my meal, I went to wash my hands.

At the time (that/which) I lost my job, I started looking for another one.

In all the above, no past perfect is necessary to determine or declare which event happened first, and the same is true of your sentence:

When Sally received her first pay, she bought presents for her parents.

When here means at the time (which). It can even have the force of after. We know which event happened first by common sense and by the appropriate use of conjunctions.

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