Direct / indirect speech and sequence of tenses

< Previous | Next >

ArmadilloAbcd

Senior Member
Italian
Hello,

I read the following sentences on BBC Magazine: "The man said he had been walking his dog when the coastguard arrived."

I think the corrisponding sentence in direct speech is : "I was walking my dog when the coastguard arrived."

Now, if we follow the backshift of tenses rule strictly, the same sentence in indirect speech should have been : "The man said he had been walking his dog when the coastguard had arrived."

Could somebody explain why the verb << arrive >> in reported speech stays in the simple past and does not backshift to the past perfect?

I thank you in advance for your replies. :)
 
  • Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Now, if we follow the backshift of tenses rule strictly, the same sentence in indirect speech should have been : "The man said he had been walking his dog when the coastguard had arrived."
    No.

    Indirect speech is really no different from any other sentence where we use verb tenses to set the time of the action:
    The man said [past tense: sets the time of the action]​
    that he had been walking his dog [the past perfect shifts the time of the action back to an earlier point in time]​
    when [shows that the following action occurred at the same time]​
    the coastguard arrived [the past tense does not change the time of the action].​
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    No. “When the coastguard arrived” is not part of the main clause, so it does not need to be backshifted. It’s an adverbial of time which remains as it is (unless you want to relate it to something that happened after it, rather than at the same time).

    What was he doing at that moment (= the moment when the coastguard arrived)?
    What had he been doing at that moment (= the moment when the coastguard arrived)?

    It’s rarely necessary to use the past perfect twice in the same sentence to set the time frame.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top