Hello,

Q. I wonder if the adverb "at first" in (a) is used naturally  being in harmony with the use of past perfect?  To me, (b) seems correct, but (a) feel awkward. This is because while the past perfect sentence implies that he had had wrong belief for a long time for that island, "at first" indicates the time when he heard the news.

(a) The floating garbage patch was discovered in 1997 by a man. At first, he had mistaken it for an island.

(b) I hadn't seen him in years. At first, I didn't recognize him because he had lost a great deal of weight.

Thank you.

Original Post

Hi, Jiho,

I agree with you that the use of "at first" in (a) may look a bit strange at first sight, but if we consider that he first thought the garbage patch was an island and only then discovered it was garbage, then the past perfect is acceptable:

(a) The floating garbage patch was discovered in 1997 by a man. At first, he had mistaken it for an island but then, on a closer look, he realized it was just garbage. (The realization that it was garbage coincides with the discovery ->past simple, and the false belief that it was an island was previous ->past perfect.)

In (b), the sequence of events follows the order of the verbs:

(b) I hadn't seen him in years. At first, I didn't recognize him because he had lost a great deal of weight. (1. Not having seen him in years / 2. Initial failure to recognize him / 3. Recognition (implicit or appearing later in the text).)

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