- Later, she insisted that the room was cleaned before we arrived.

ritter66

Senior Member
Czech
Hello all.


- Later, she insisted that the room was cleaned before we arrived.

In my opinion, due to the word "before" I could use either past perfect or past simple. Am I right here? Thank you very much.
 
  • Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    Hi ritter66, no-one replying, so here goes: you are right, you can use either of your versions and the meaning is the same.

    Note, however, that the sentence (Later,) she insisted that the room was cleaned before we arrived as a standalone (i.e. without further context) is ambiguous. This is because of the two different meanings of "insist" - (1) to say firmly that something is true, and (2) to demand that something (should) happen. The ambiguity wouldn't arise with "said", for example.

    The sense in which I understood it on first reading is this:
    She insisted that the room was cleaned before we arrived = she insisted that the room be cleaned before we arrived = she insisted on the room being cleaned before we arrived. The meaning is the same in all three: she wanted the room to be cleaned before we arrived.

    For it to mean the same as the had been cleaned version, the intended sense is obviously she said the room was/had been cleaned before we arrived (even though there was dust on the table, cobwebs on the walls and rubbish in the bin ...).
     

    ritter66

    Senior Member
    Czech
    Thank you very much for, as always, very informative post.

    I wasn´t sure if "was" was possible because of the indirect speech "she said". It made me little worried what´s stronger. Is it the "before" or the fact that it is the "indirect speech" - where, in this case, I would expect the past perfect tense only.
     

    Enquiring Mind

    Senior Member
    English - the Queen's
    Hmm, I don't feel any difference (or preference) between the meaning of "she said/insisted the room was cleaned before we arrived" and "she said/insisted the room had been cleaned before we arrived", so it's difficult to say which element - "before" or the reported speech tense shift requirement - "triggers" the "had been".

    I looked around on grammar sites for the use of the past perfect (or pluperfect) and they all say, of course, that it describes one action (here "room cleaned") that took place before another (here "we arrived"). However I wasn't able to find anything that could explain what actually "triggers" the past perfect, in other words what makes the past perfect necessary and rules out the simple past. I have a general feeling that learners of English worry too much about this. If we have two actions (or states) and we know one happened before the other, they tend to think the earlier action (or state) must be described with the past perfect, but it's not so. They can both be described with the simple past as two actions in the past.

    She said the room was/had been cleaned before we arrived. :tick:
    (She said) The walls were/had been blue before they were repainted green. :tick:
    (She said) She learned/had learned (to play) the piano before she learned the flute. :tick:
     

    Englishmypassion

    Senior Member
    India - Hindi
    Yes, when we have words like "before" and "after" that make the sequence obvious, there's no obligation to use the past perfect.

    That said, I would use "She insisted the room be cleaned", if that's the intended meaning.
     

    ritter66

    Senior Member
    Czech
    Thank you EM and Englishismypassion.

    Ok, this is interesting. Englishismypassion - What do you think about the fact that in terms of how the indirect speech works there should be past perfect? How come that BEFORE plays the main role here and not the indirect speech "rule". I would like to know what makes one of the two "rules" stronger. Any ideas?
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    This is the version I would use to talk about what had happened before we arrived:
    2) Later, she insisted that the room had been cleaned before we arrived. :tick:
    With 'was', I would use the adjectival form -- clean:
    Later, she insisted that the room was clean before we arrived.
    (Without more context, gives the impression that it was no longer clean after arrived. When we got there, we made a mess of the room, or some such thing.)​

    Enquiring Mind is a speaker of British English. If she was giving an order, in American English I would say:
    She insisted that the room be cleaned before we arrived.
    I would not say 'insisted the room was cleaned' for that meaning. I would use the subjunctive form [be cleaned] as Englishmypassion does.
     
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