The bodies of men and women who <had been><were> pushed

JJXR

Senior Member
Russian
Hello to all,

Thanks for reading my post.


Source:

A brief history of snow

Sample sentence:

The bodies of men and women who <had been><were> pushed by the wind into drifts were discovered hours or days later by an arm or leg protruding from the snow.

Question:

The past perfect "had been" is used in the original. I wonder if the simple past "were" is also correct in this case.


Thanks a lot for any comments, corrections or suggestions!

Regards,
JJXR
 
  • Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    The meaning is clear either way, but I would use "had been" since the action of pushing occurred before the action of the main verb "discovered". If you remove "who", and insert "and" between "drifts" and "were", turning "push" into a main verb, then the simple past would be fine (depending on what had come immediately before this), as this would just be a progression of events.
     

    JJXR

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thanks for the response, Uncle Jack.

    Here are a couple of examples from my other threads:

    1. You know, Chris, I went to the library yesterday. I was disappointed when the librarian said that they didn't have the book John had told me about. (this link)

    2. We said that the money we had handed her had been saved from her husband's business. It was a pious fraud; she would have been distressed had she known we had collected it among ourselves. (
    this link)

    The "had" in bold is optional here even though the event it refers to (in both cases) is earlier in time than the main time frame of the story. If we denote "the book John had told me about" and "the money we had handed her" by "that book" and "that money" respectively, we can rewrite sentences #1 and #2:

    1A. You know, Chris, I went to the library yesterday. I was disappointed when the librarian said that they didn't have that book.

    2A. We said that that money had been saved from her husband's business. It was a pious fraud; she would have been distressed had she known we had collected it among ourselves.


    I think it's possible to do the same with the sentence in post #1. We can denote "men and women who <had been><were> pushed by the wind into drifts" by "those men and women", then we get the following:

    The bodies of those men and women were discovered hours or days later by an arm or leg protruding from the snow.

    Consequently, both the past perfect "had been"and the simple past "were" are correct in the sentence in post #1, regardless of the fact that the action of pushing occurred before the main verb "discovered."
    ________________________________________

    Does my analysis make sense? Thanks.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    The sentences are similar, I agree, and I did not say that the simple past was wrong, only that I would use the past perfect. However, I wonder why you have not also marked "had been saved" and "we had collected", since these, too, are in a subordinate clauses, and could be changed to the simple past without changing the meaning. I don't see how being able to remove the verb altogether comes into it; these are verbs, not adjectives, and they describe an action that happened at a particular point in time. If the time is important - and with the snow sentence it probably is - then use the past perfect. If the time is not important, then you could use either, and you will find different people adopting different approaches. I tend to use the past perfect anyway, but many other speakers avoid it if they can.

    In an English exam, use the past perfect.
     

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    In situations where the sequence is in any case clear, it is possible to use either the simple past or the past perfect. Whether or not we prefer the past perfect largely depends on whether it makes the sentence faster/easier to understand - that’s the case here. Although we can deduce the sequence logically, the past perfect saves us this effort. The more obvious the sequence is, the more likely we are to use the simple past to economise a word.
     
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