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Past perfect or Past simple

I am always a bit confused with use of tense in report writing. Please see a paragraph below. Grateful if someone could tell me which tense (past perfect or past simple) should be used and reasons why. Many thanks in advance for your help.

Mr. Smith said the statement the prime minister had made in a conference was very disturbing. The prime minister [had said or said] the elections could be postponed given the current political landscape. While almost all participants in the conference [had been or were] supportive of holding the elections as scheduled, the prime minister [had said or said] that if there was going to be a political deal, that would be priority overruling the democratic process. With such comments, the opposition would think that if they can make a deal with the prime minister, there is no need to hold the elections.

Answers

  • Your first sentence includes INDEFINITE REFERENCE a conference and INDEFINITE PAST TIME the prime Minister had made. You don't say exactly when, just that it's prior to the REFERNCE POINTB IN TIME when Mr Smith said.

    After this first mention, it' OK to use DEFINITE REFERENCE the conference and DEFINITE PAST TIME_ ...said...were...said..._.

  • Many thanks for the clarification. One more question. If I the sentences don't say "in a conference" then should I use past perfect? In what conditions should I use past perfect?

  • In what conditions should I use past perfect?

    That's a very general question. A better question to ask in this context is

    How do we choose between PAST SIMPLE and PAST PERFECT in reporting sentences?

    In your story about Mr Smith and the Prime Minister, it's not a question of grammar. It isn't even a question of semantics. Both SIMPLE and PERFECT would be grammatical. Both could be meaningful in that they would refer to the same objectively observed situation. The difference would be pragmatic — it would depend on how the speaker, Mr Smith, felt about what he was describing.

    The choice of PAST SIMPLE would reflect that Mr Smith had in mind the DEFINITE PAST TIME — whether or not he made it explicit in his opening

    the statement the Prime Minister had made

    Note that in this opening mr Smith signalled a DEFINITE TIME by choosing was, not had been.

    If Mr Smith was not thinking of a DEFINITE PAST TIME for all that the Prime Minister had said, he might have said

    the statement the Prime Minister had made had been very disturbing. The prime minister had said the elections could be postponed given the current political landscape.

    This would be ambiguous. It could refer to one statement or two statements at different times.

    The next sentence includes mention of the conference, so we have a signal of DEFINITE PAST TIME. If we omit it in this sentence just as in the first, we could get

    While many other people had been supportive of holding the elections as scheduled, the prime minister had said that if there was going to be a political deal, that would be priority overruling the democratic process.

    Again, this too would be ambiguous. People may have demonstrated their support sticking to the election schedules at a different time from when the Prime Minister stated his opinion. With PAST SIMPLE

    While many other people were supportive of holding the elections as scheduled, the prime minister said that if there was going to be a political deal, that would be priority overruling the democratic process

    it's clear — even without mention of the meeting that the two opinions were expressed at the same time.

    The principle that DEFINITENESS is subjective may extend to choices between a and the. Often the choice is determined by the grammar, but sometimes the it depends on what the speaker/writer has in mind. If he or she has one thing in mind, this may be signalled by the DEFINITE the thing — even though it is not unique and has not been explicitly mentioned.

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