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Here is the sentence:

By ten o'clock he _____ the engine and he _____ to paint the garage when I paid a visit to him

There are 5 possible answers:

a) had repaired/had started

b) repaired/was starting

c) repaired/had started

d) repairs/starts

e) had repaired/would start

I picked the answer B and now it seems obvious to me that I was mistaken.The right answer is E but I still don't get how the second part of the sentence works with would start. It's like, when I came he had already finished repairing his bike and was starting to paint the garage. In this case everything seems right to me, but please clarify how I should understand the sentence with would start.Rephrasing is welcome.

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  • It's either a) or e) based on “by ten o'clock”. “He had started to paint [...] when I paid a visit” is illogical because the past perfect simple comes before past simple. So the only option is e). Now why “would” -- because he's awaiting for my arrival. – user3395 May 12 '16 at 14:14
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    It's a bad sentence. The relationship of "by ten o'clock" and "when I paid a visit" is unclear. Did the visit occur at 10? Or are the two temporal phrases unrelated? Moreover, "when I paid" is ambiguous. All we know is that "had repaired" is correct and that "starts" is incorrect. I can think of contexts where "had started", "was starting, and "would start" would all be grammatical. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 12 '16 at 14:29
  • Now why “would” -- because he's awaiting for my arrival. What do you mean by that, cralify pls? May be it's not the way of using "would" that I'm familiar with.. – Dmitrii May 12 '16 at 16:14
  • I am trying to make up a scenario in which "would" makes sense, but it is tough. To really work, it needs to be a habitual/repeated action.... "Roger and I had a routine established in those days. He went to the shop early, to work on his single repair job for the day. I stayed at home, except for a walk to the shop after breakfast. Every day was the same. By ten o'clock he had repaired the engine, and he would start to paint the garage when I paid a visit to him." Why does he paint the garage every single day? I don't know. @TRomano - did you have a more sensible use of E in mind. – Adam May 12 '16 at 17:09
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    @Adam: Consider the sentence as reported speech. The factotum's girlfriend is telling her BFF how he had fixed her car, but that he was holding off painting her garage until she "paid him a visit". when = as soon as. :) – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 12 '16 at 17:59
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A, B, C and E can all be read as grammatical, using standard English. D is the most questionable combination, but it is not impossible if you resort to some unique, idiosyncratic, or nonstandard English. Thus this test question, like many that we see here, is terrible.

As for the would in E, it talks about the future from the the point of view of the past.

Let's say 10 o'clock means 10 AM. And that you paid a visit at noon (12 PM). If the time is now after the visit is over, say 8 PM, you could say the sentence as if it were some time between 10 AM and 12 PM, for example as if were 11 AM. It is not really 11 AM, it is 8 PM, but you are looking back on all the events and speaking from the point in time of 11 AM.

By ten o'clock he had repaired the engine and (as of the point in time of 11 AM) he would start to paint the garage when I paid a visit to him (at noon).

In reality, all the events, including paid a visit have been completed (are in the past). But the sentence is spoken as if the event pay a visit has not yet happened: it's still in the future as of 11 AM.

To make this clearer, let's do the opposite of backshift and "frontshift" all these verbs:

By ten o'clock he repaired the engine and he will start to paint the garage when I pay a visit to him.

I hope it's clear that this is grammatical. It talks about one completed event (repaired the engine) and one future event (will start to paint the garage); the future event will happen when something else happens. This something else (when I pay a visit) is still in the future. So the time point of this sentence is after the completed event but before the future event. It is the same for E, except that all the events are part of the past, and you are speaking as if pay a visit is still in the future.

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The answer is a.

By ten o'clock he ...had repaired... the engine and he ..had started... to paint the garage when I paid a visit to him.

The explanation of the sentence above is:

By 10, he had finished repairing the engine and had already started to paint the garage.

An alternative answer would be: had painted / was just starting

By ten o'clock, he had repaired the engine, and was just starting to paint the garage when I paid him a visit.

"Would start" is wrong here. Would start can have different meanings, not applicable in your example.

  1. If I had enough time, I would start to paint the garage today. (Second Conditional) (But I don't have enough time, so I won't.)

  2. You WOULD start to paint the garage on my birthday, instead of taking me out ! (How typically insensitive of you !)

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  • That's not what A says, though. It says "had started", not "had already started". The addition of already makes it read a little differently, and better. – stangdon May 12 '16 at 14:12
  • @stangdon As I said, the answer is a. as is. The sentence I wrote was an explanation. – Cathy Gartaganis May 12 '16 at 14:15
  • I would agree with you, but despite that please clarify what will it mean if we use "would start" in the second part.Like what tense is it? what means "would start to paint"? – Dmitrii May 12 '16 at 16:13
  • @Dmitrii would start can have different meanings, not applicable in your example. 1) If I had enough time, I would start to paint the garage today. (Second Conditional) (But I don't have enough time, so I won't.) 2) You WOULD start to paint the garage on my birthday, instead of taking me out ! (How typically insensitive of you !) – Cathy Gartaganis May 12 '16 at 17:18
  • thx man, I agree, that's why I wondered why they say that "would" is the right answer – Dmitrii May 12 '16 at 18:50

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