I wouldn't be surprised to hear in ten minutes that the engines on our plane 'had refused' to start

Bob8964

Senior Member
Chinese
Thank you, panjandrum!

(4) is uncertain, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear in ten minutes that the engines on our plane had refused to start, or the pilot was still stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the airport.
I'm very interested in why the past perfect and the past simple are used in the parts in bold in the above comments. I think the reason would be because the second conditional is used here; and To hear is just the short form of if I heard. I rewrite it as below:

I wouldn't be surprised if in ten minutes I heard that the engines on our plane had refused to start, or the pilot was still stuck in a traffic jam...

After if I heard, all the tenses must move back a step - "has refused" should be changed into "had refused" and "is still stuck" into "was still stuck". I think this might be able to explain why we use the past perfect and the past simple here.

Please kindly advise if my understanding is correct.
 
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  • panjandrum

    Occasional Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I don't think the reason for the backshift is a conditional implicit in "to hear", though that's an interesting possibility.

    I think it is simply reported speech :)
    Here is a version with direct speech.
    ... I wouldn't be surprised to hear in ten minutes "The engines on our plane have refused to start," or "The pilot is still stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the airport."
    Turning those into reported speech produces the version in post #1.

    Here's a slightly different version with the conditional structure Bob suggests made explicit.
    ... If I heard in ten minutes "The engines on our plane have refused to start," or "The pilot is still stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the airport," I would not be surprised.
    The only reason to backshift the bold verbs is the transformation from direct to indirect speech.

    The verbs influenced by the conditional structure are the red verbs, not the bold verbs.
     
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