Peter told me that they were working/have been working/had worked...

quiteinteresting

Senior Member
German - Germany
Hi,

so people are at a party:

A: Peter is talking to Joe. I didn't know that they knew each other.
B: Well, Peter told me that they were working / have been working / had worked for the same company for years!

“Had worked” is supposed to be correct. But I do not understand why. In my opinion, all three could be correct, or am I misunderstanding the context?

My ideas:
  1. Peter told me that they were working for the same company for years! → They worked together continuously at the company at some point in the past, but no longer.
  2. Peter told me that they have been working for the same company for years! → They have worked together continuously at the company to this day.
  3. Peter told me that they had worked for the same company for years! → They worked together at the company at some point in the past, but not all the time together, and today they no longer work together. Since it does not say what both have been doing since then, I would have left out the “had” and written instead: “Peter told me that they worked for the same company for years!”
Do my considerations make sense? 🤔

Thanks! 😀
 
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Hello. If Peter tells you We have worked *at the same company for years, I expect to hear this in your report about what he said:

    Peter told me that they had worked at the same company for years.

    If you don't shift tenses** in your report about what he said, this version is also possible:

    Peter told me that they have worked at the same company for years.

    *The present perfect is sufficient to express the idea that Peter and Joe began working at the same company at some point in the past and continue to work there now.

    **In real life, people don't always shift tenses in their reports about what somebody said. Shifting tenses is a common thing to do, however.
     

    quiteinteresting

    Senior Member
    German - Germany
    **In real life, people don't always shift tenses in their reports about what somebody said. Shifting tenses is a common thing to do, however.
    Oh, thank you so much! 😄 I totally forgot about shifting tenses, you're of course absolutely right!

    *The present perfect is sufficient to express the idea that Peter and Joe began working at the same company at some point in the past and continue to work there now.
    Okay, so all options would be: are working → were working (present progressive → past progressive), [no tense shift possible?] → have been working ([no tense shift possible?] → present perfect progressive) and have worked → had worked (present perfect → past perfect). Now, it's clear to me that past perfect is the right option to choose, since present perfect would have been the original speech.

    Thank you! 👍
     

    quiteinteresting

    Senior Member
    German - Germany
    One last question: There is really no tense shift possible from something to the present perfect progressive, right? 🤔
    [no tense shift possible?] → present perfect progressive
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    There is really no tense shift possible from something to the present perfect progressive, right?
    I can't think of any obvious reason to do this, but it is possible that I don't understand your question.

    You can report what Peter (or anybody else) said without shifting tenses.

    Peter says: I have been feeling sick for a week.

    Later, I report what he said without shifting tenses: Peter says that he has been feeling sick for a week.

    More often than not, I shift tenses when I report something that somebody said earlier:

    Peter said yesterday that he had been feeling sick for a week.
     
    Last edited:

    quiteinteresting

    Senior Member
    German - Germany
    I can't think of any obvious reason to do this, but it is possible that I don't understand your question.
    Yeah, thanks. I just wanted to double-check my assumption, but I eventually found this source: https://www.ef.com/wwen/english-resources/english-grammar/tense-changes-when-using-reported-speech/ .

    Tense in direct speechshifts in reported speech to …
    Simple presentSimple past
    Present continuousPast continuous
    Simple pastPast perfect
    Present perfectPast perfect
    Past perfectPast perfect
    Present perfect continuousPast perfect continuous
    Past continuousPast perfect continuous
    FuturePresent conditional
    Future continuousConditional continuous

    As there is no present perfect progressive on the right side of the table, it's obviously impossible to shift from direct speech to the present perfect progressive in reported speech. 👍

    More often than not, I shift tenses when I report something that somebody said earlier:
    Thank you so much! 😄
     
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