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"picked up six bodies" is the passed action after the action of "he told French ..."; why it was not using "past participle tense (had picked up)", instead of "simple past tense"?

He told French radio station Delta FM he and his crew picked up six bodies that were drifting in the water.

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-59423245

Last edited by joshua
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@joshua posted:

He told French radio station Delta FM he and his crew picked up six bodies that were drifting in the water.

@joshua posted:

May I know why it is optional, but not mandatory based on the function of the tenses?

Hi, Joshua—To add to Ahmed's explanation, with which I fully agree, I'd like to point out why the time relationships are clear, without the use of the past perfect, in the example you have quoted.

From the verb form itself ("picked up," the past simple), we cannot tell whether "backshift" is involved. In the sentence "He told them that he picked up bodies," there are two readings:

(a) He told them, "I picked up bodies."
(b) He told them, "I pick up bodies."

On interpretation (a), no backshift is involved: "picked up" means "picked up." On interpretation (b), backshift is involved: "picked up" means "pick up"; the past tense is a backshifted form of the present simple (with habitual meaning).

The discerning reader can tell, however, that backshift is not involved in your example, because the complete verb phrase is "picked up six dead bodies that were floating in the water," and the following can't be interpreted as habitual:

  • He told them, "I pick up six dead bodies that are floating in the water."

That sentence actually could be used in a narrative being told in the historical present. However, the historical present is never, to my knowledge, a viable interpretation of a backshifted clause of reported speech.

Last edited by David, Moderator

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