How to backshift in the following case?

Hi all GE members and moderators,

"We haven't seen each other since we left school."

A/ She said that they had not seen each other since they HAD LEFT school.

B/ She said that they had not seen each other since they LEFT school.

 

The question is: which is the correct sentence, A or B?

Many thanks.

Original Post

Hi, Tony,

I'd go with 'B'. A rule that I learnt in 2011 from the editor of Longman says: "The rule of sequence of tenses is that once the time frame is already established by the past perfect, no further marker of the time frame is needed in subordinate clauses that take place at the same time, so these take a simpler past tense."

tonyck 2 posted:

"We haven't seen each other since we left school."

A/ She said that they had not seen each other since they HAD LEFT school.
B/ She said that they had not seen each other since they LEFT school.

The question is: which is the correct sentence, A or B?

Hello, Tony,

Both (A) and (B) are correct as backshifted versions of "We haven't seen each other since we left school."

In (A), both the main clause and the subordinate clause of the direct-speech sentence are backshifted relative to the matrix clause verb ("said").

In (B), only the main clause of the direct-speech sentence is backshifted. The past tense in the "since"-clause expands the backshifted domain of "had not seen."

Put differently, in (A), both "had not seen" and "had left" are related to "said." In (B), only "had not seen" is related to "said"; "left" is related to "had not seen."

If what I have said does not make sense to you, please let me know and I will try to explain it in a different way.

Thank you Ahmed and David for your replies.

As you said, David, both A and B are correct, so if this sentence appears in a test, then the answer should include both, not either A or B, right?

Ahmed, can you tell me where I can find the information from the editor from Longman that you quoted? Many thanks.

Once again thank you for your replies.

 

tonyck 2 posted:

Thank you Ahmed and David for your replies.

As you said, David, both A and B are correct, so if this sentence appears in a test, then the answer should include both, not either A or B, right?

Ahmed, can you tell me where I can find the information from the editor from Longman that you quoted? Many thanks.

Once again thank you for your replies.

 

Hi, Tony,

I know David's opinion very well as I read it many years ago and I completely understand his view, but the problem is that we did have many questions exactly like yours above and all the model answers avoid using the past perfect after 'since'. Our Longman Website has a problem now, so no one can log on it, but I have a copy of most its questions and answers on my computer. I'll take a similar question to yours as a copy paste here and I hope it works.

Ali said to me, “I haven’t eaten fish since I went abroad.” How can we report this statement?

Sender

Mr. Ahmed Imam

Position

Teacher

Why is this difficult? The present perfect changes to the past perfect. The verb in the dependent clause stays the same. You could also change it to since he was abroad.

Generally, once the time frame is established by the verb in the main clause, the verb in a dependent clause is simpler. See Sequence of Tenses in the Archives, especially here and here.

 

 

ed. 22/01/12

 

 

 

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Sender  Ahmed_btm

teacher

Do you mean that, in reported speech, we don't change the time of the dependent clauses after "while" and "since"?

==========
Editor's reply:

Generally, yes, there is no need to change them to a past perfect if they're already in a past tense. See the links that I added above.

tonyck 2 posted:

As you said, David, both A and B are correct, so if this sentence appears in a test, then the answer should include both, not either A or B, right?

Hello, Tony,

Yes, that's right. Given that both (A) and (B) are correct, neither should be marked as incorrect. Therefore, if both are listed as answer choices on a test, there should be a third choice saying "both (A) and (B)."

I don't think I had noticed Ahmed_btm's post when I made my first post above; we must have been posting at roughly the same time. My answer is not contradicted by the Longman editor's views.

The editor at Longman is NOT saying that the past perfect is incorrect. Rather, the assertion is that the past perfect (backshift) is not needed in the subordinate reported-speech clause. That it is not needed does not imply that it is incorrect.

There are examples where the since-clause would HAVE TO be backshifted:

(1a) John said, "It has been five years since I have eaten Chinese food."
(1b) John said that it had been five years since he had eaten Chinese food.

Without backshift in the since-clause of (1b), (1a) would be misrepresented. "Had eaten" is necessary in (1b). Backshift in the since-clause is optional in your sentence. I have explained why in my first post above.

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