The deceased was... He had stayed... He was accompanied... [Past perfect vs past simple]

Bloodred

New Member
Russian - Russia
Hi everyone!

Here is a passage from a book I'm currently reading:

"They arose from the unsettling of the minds of the masses, and the consequent weakening of all authority. The deceased was an American gentleman who had been residing for some weeks in the metropolis. He had stayed at the boarding-house of Madame Charpentier, in Torquay Terrace, Camberwell. He was accompanied in his travels by his private secretary, Mr. Joseph Stangerson."

So, could anyone please tell me why Past Simple is used in the first sentence, then Past Perfect, and then again Past Simple? I just don't understand why the same tense can't be used here.

Thanks for your answers in advance!
 
  • PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    So, could anyone please tell me why Past Simple is used in the first sentence,
    Probably, but only if (i) you tell us the title of the book and the author and (ii) what "They" refers to in "They arose from the unsettling of the minds of the masses,"
     

    grassy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Arose - a past event in a narrative, had stayed - something that happened before the gentleman died, was accompanied - a fact from his life.
     

    Bloodred

    New Member
    Russian - Russia
    to PaulQ:
    It's A Study In Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle.
    And "they" refers to the sentence preceding "They arose from...": "The Standard commented upon the fact that lawless outrages of the sort usually occurred under a Liberal Administration."
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    to PaulQ: It's A Study In Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle.
    Thanks.

    If you note, "They arose from the unsettling of the minds of the masses, and the consequent weakening of all authority. is simply an observation, and not connected to what follows:

    The deceased was an American gentleman who had been residing for some weeks in the metropolis. He had stayed at the boarding-house of Madame Charpentier, in Torquay Terrace, Camberwell. He was accompanied in his travels by his private secretary, Mr. Joseph Stangerson."

    This is narrative description - background information - things that have happened beforehand. This context/background information sets the scene and is written in the past perfect.

     

    Bloodred

    New Member
    Russian - Russia
    The deceased was an American gentleman who had been residing for some weeks in the metropolis. He had stayed at the boarding-house of Madame Charpentier, in Torquay Terrace, Camberwell. He was accompanied in his travels by his private secretary, Mr. Joseph Stangerson."

    This is narrative description - background information - things that have happened beforehand. This context/background information sets the scene and is written in the past perfect.
    But why doesn't that all apply to the sentence "he was accompanied..." which is written in the past simple? I mean it could also be interpreted as narrative description and background information, and it also happened before...
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    But why doesn't that all apply to the sentence "he was accompanied..."
    had stayed - something that happened before the gentleman died, was accompanied - a fact from his life.
    "They arose from the unsettling of the minds of the masses, and the consequent weakening of all authority." -> comment and assumedly valid/current at the time of writing.

    The deceased was an American gentleman (<- and was still attributable with that status despite his death) who had been residing for some weeks in the metropolis. (<-that stay that was completed upon his death.)
    He had stayed at the boarding-house of Madame Charpentier, in Torquay Terrace, Camberwell. (<- narrative background)

    He was accompanied in his travels by his private secretary, Mr. Joseph Stangerson." -
    You have read enough of the story to know that Stangerson is a current character in the story and a character of known current relevance. That is why it is the simple past.

    The use of the simple past and the past perfect is not really governed by "rules" - it is what seems most natural to the character/narrator/the writer.

    In broad terms, the description of the chronologically earlier events (from the first onwards) that (i) set the scene and that (ii) have now ended/are complete in their effect, is usually given in the past perfect.

    Within those events, descriptions that add to the description of the events can be given in any tense that serves the purpose.

    The house was cold. The heating system had broken down - and it broke/had broken down every winter. He had attempted a repair but it failed/had failed.





     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    The deceased was an American gentleman who had been residing for some weeks in the metropolis. He had stayed at the boarding-house of Madame Charpentier, in Torquay Terrace, Camberwell. He was accompanied in his travels by his private secretary, Mr. Joseph Stangerson."
    There are rules for choice of tenses. The past perfect depends upon a past time context: it is a past prior to a past.

    Here, the verbs with 'had' are expressing specific actions performed by the deceased prior to, and possibly related to, his death.
    They are seen in retrospect from the point of his death. For these verbs, the time context has narrowed down to the point of death.

    The verbs with 'was' are expressing situations which are more general and are seen from the context of the wider narrative.
    The time context is now later than the point of death.
     
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