After they returned to Jaspers's house Jaspers tried to draw Heidegger out, remarking that surely his friend could not agree with Nazis on the Jewish question. Heidegger: But there is a dangerous international network of Jews. Jaspers: How can such an uncultivated man like Adolf Hitler govern Germany? Heidegger: Culture doesn't matter. Just look at his marvelous hands? Heidegger left early and never saw his old friend again.

Jaspers was stunned. Nothing Heidegger ever said had prepared him for this rapid political engagement with Nazism…

I have the question regarding the Past perfect used in the second paragraph of the above excerpt. I presume that this usage is OK but I tend to write this sentence this way:

Nothing Heidegger had ever said prepared him for this rapid political engagement with Nazism.

My "logic" for this usage is as follows:

  1. Heidegger's unuttered words are located before the conversation which is quoted at the end of the first paragraph.
  2. The things must be firstly told and than it is possible to be prepared for them.

Could you tell me where my "logic" fails?


A matrix (superordinate) clause has syntactic priority over its embedded subordinates, regardless of the order in which the verbs occur.

Heidegger ever said is a subordinate clause, a relative clause (with a "null-relativizer") modifying nothing. Bracket it out of the sentence and you're left with the matrix clause

Nothing had prepared him ...

In this context the past perfect is almost obligatory: it designates the non-occurrence of prior events which might have led to Jaspers' being prepared at the time being described, the 'Reference Time' when Heidegger's remark stunned him.

The writer has some flexibility in the subordinate clause. Another past perfect, Heidegger had ever said, is acceptable but not obligatory: since anteriority is established by the matrix clause past perfect and underscored by the ever, a simple past will be taken to lie within the temporal domain of the matrix clause.

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  • 1
    @CopperKettle You are of course right; I will edit. – StoneyB on hiatus Jan 8 '16 at 20:18

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