Submitted by Jasper  •  November 25, 2013

“a letter that had requested” vs. “a letter that requested”

While doing some homework for literature, I constructed these two sentences and was wondering if they can be interpreted differently. The original sentence was the synopsis of “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Poe and started in the present tense, which will also be included because there is a question I have about it.

A1) The narrator arrived at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter that had requested his presence.

A2) The narrator arrived at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter that requested his presence.

What is the difference in meaning between the above sentences?

The original sentence was:

B) The narrator arrives at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter that requested his presence.

In the sentence, the narrator is currently arriving at the house because he received a letter that requested his presence, which had been sent by Roderick Usher. Does that coincide with the above statement?

For a timeline: Usher sent the letter—> the letter, through Usher’s words request the narrator’s presence—> the narrator’s arrival.

Comments Sort by:   Oldest first  •  Latest first  •  Rating

I think this is a bit similar to a question jayles put a few weeks ago about time clauses. For me, A1 doesn't work. I'm not sure if I can explain why, but let's have a go anyway. Here's a stripped down version without the relative clause:

The narrator arrived at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter.

All fine and dandy - Roderick Usher sent a letter and then the narrator arrived at his house - because the earlier action is placed second it goes into Past perfect

What did the letter do? - it requested his presence, NOT it had requested his presence.
So what had he sent? A letter that requested his presence.

It would have been different if there had been two anterior actions:

"The narrator arrived at the house of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who had sent him a letter and had asked him to visit"

But here we only have one action, and the relative clause is simply modifying the noun "letter". Other similar examples of relative clauses and that clauses with Past perfect:

"The previous year he had given me a watch that told the time in ten countries."
"By the time she left, I had grown tired of her always saying that she was too tired to go out."

But sometimes we do need a Past Perfect in the relative clause, when it concerns an earlier action:

"She told him that she had already read the book that he had given her."
BUT
"She told him that she had already read the book that he was talking about"
"She told him that she had read a book that described their situation exactly"

The second two are more to do with the book itself, the first is about his action in giving it to her.

0 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

Yes, okay, that makes sense. All that the relative clause is doing is, more or less, stating a fact, like quote on book (2) and (3). The reason for my thinking that the requesting should be in past perfect was that it was written before the sending. But I think I read into a little more than I should have.

0 vote Vote!  •  URL to this comment  •  Report Abuse

Your Comment