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Hi,

While I was analyzing a Whitney Houston article, I came across a number of sentences that were related to the past perfect tenses.

ex1) She was staying at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Saturday to attend a pre-Grammy party being hosted by Clive Davis, the founder of Arista Records, who had been her pop mentor.

My doubt is whether the use of the past perfect rests on her being alive at the time the writer is writing this article.

Suppose she was alive while the writer was writing this. In this case, can you use the present perfect instead?

If she had been alive, his being her mentor could have continued up to the point of the writer's writing this. Can it be a justification for using the present perfect tense?

ex2) She was the daughter of Cissy Houston, a gospel and pop singer who had backed up Aretha Franklin, and the cousin of Dionne Warwick. (Ms. Franklin is Ms. Houston’s godmother.)

The event of backing up Aretha Franklin completed prior to the event that Ms. Houston was born. This justifies the use of the past perfect. Correct? (That is, one event completed before another event in the past)

ex3) Because Ms. Houston had been credited on previous recordings, including a 1984 duet with Teddy Pendergrass, she was ruled ineligible for the best new artist category of the Grammy Awards

Likewise, if you want to make it known that the event in the subordinate clause occured before the event in the other clause, you need to use the past perfect.

ex4) Lt. Mark Rosen, a spokesman for the Beverly Hills Police Department, said that emergency workers responded to a 911 call from security at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Wilshire Boulevard at 3:43 p.m., saying that Ms. Houston was unconscious in her fourth-floor suite.

This is an example of reported speech, I believe. Shouldn't the writer have used the past perfect in the that-clause since the origianl utterance of Mark Rosen was something like the following?

Mark Rosen said, "Emergency workers responded to a 911 call from security at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Wilshire Boulevard at 3:43 p.m."

ex5) Lieutenant Rosen said that detectives had arrived to conduct what he said was a full-scale investigation into the death.

This seems like a hybrid type of reported speech. Lietenant Rosen probably said something like the following:

"The detective arrived to conduct a full investigation into the death."

So the use of the past perfect was proper in this case, but I don't know why the writer opted not to use the past perfect in the above case, which is no different from this sentence in terms of reporting a past time event.

Please note my comments on last two examples were not made to show that I have superior knowledge of English language or anything. Who am I to judge someone who is completely out of my league in terms of English grammar and writing skills? Emotion: smile Please enlighten me on the use of the past perfect. I'd apprecitate it.
Regular Member769
With no intent to comment on your analysis of the Houston news, I just want to touch on a couple of observations on the use of the perfects in your mention. I believe those references are correctly used because the past perfect construction was based / hinged on the passing of Whitney which is critical reference in the chronological order of things pertained to her life, as well as her tragedy. In the natural scheme of things, it would sound quite dreadful to have everything written in past perfect, wouldn't it? Sometimes, people would alternatively switch between past and past perfect just so that the non-essential information is noted without implying back to another prior event. Just my two cents....
Senior Member4,167
Thank you for the repy, dimsumexpress. But I find your answers a little hard to comprehend. Maybe it is my lack of understanding on the use of the past perfect that makes it difficult for me to see your points. I'd like more definitive answers on my doubts.
jooney,
I've followed your posts.You actually can articulate quite well. I think most people learning the language in their own countries don't get the full benefit of everyday English exposure, and so a lot of usages out side of the grammar book become confusing. With the presumption that you know the rules for past perfect, we will skip the illustrations.

Sometimes, when a context demonstrates the events or chronology clearly without the use the past perfect, we can use simple past tense. i.e. I met Sally six months before she got married to John. Two past events clearly described without the use of past perfect. There are many examples like this with the use of conjunctions (while, after etc..) In the articles, past perfect was used pretty much throughout because details are chronologically collected and every reference about her past and was made with respect to the time of her death. In such cases, it is the right tense to use. Maybe Jim can explain it better than I can.
Thank you for your answer, DE. Despite your help, I still have lingering doubts. I think I'll have to wait for someone else to come along to clear my doubts.
Could native speakers at least give some opinions as to why the sentences were written as they were? I'd appreciate your comments.
jooneyex1) She was staying at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Saturday to attend a pre-Grammy party being hosted by Clive Davis, the founder of Arista Records, who had been her pop mentor.

My doubt is whether the use of the past perfect rests on her being alive at the time the writer is writing this article.

Suppose she was alive while the writer was writing this. In this case, can you use the present perfect instead?

If she had been alive, his being her mentor could have continued up to the point of the writer's writing this. Can it be a justification for using the present perfect tense?
Alive and dead has nothing to do with it, so try to put that out of your head.

Clive Davis was not her pop mentor at the time of the party, but before that, at some previous time in her life.
Primary time reference: the time of her stay at the Beverly Hilton. (past)
Time anterior to the primary time reference: the time of Clive Davis's mentoring. (previous to that past)
jooneyex2) She was the daughter of Cissy Houston, a gospel and pop singer who had backed up Aretha Franklin, and the cousin of Dionne Warwick. (Ms. Franklin is Ms. Houston’s godmother.)

The event of backing up Aretha Franklin completed prior to the event that Ms. Houston was born. This justifies the use of the past perfect. Correct? (That is, one event completed before another event in the past)
The activities associated with backing up Aretha Franklin happened prior to some primary time reference in the text not necessarily in this sentence.
jooneyex3) Because Ms. Houston had been credited on previous recordings, including a 1984 duet with Teddy Pendergrass, she was ruled ineligible for the best new artist category of the Grammy Awards

Likewise, if you want to make it known that the event in the subordinate clause occured before the event in the other clause, you need to use the past perfect.
Primary: was ruled ineligible
Secondary (and previous): had been credited
jooneyex4) Lt. Mark Rosen, a spokesman for the Beverly Hills Police Department, said that emergency workers responded to a 911 call from security at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Wilshire Boulevard at 3:43 p.m., saying that Ms. Houston was unconscious in her fourth-floor suite.

This is an example of reported speech, I believe. Shouldn't the writer have used the past perfect in the that-clause since the origianl utterance of Mark Rosen was something like the following?

Mark Rosen said, "Emergency workers responded to a 911 call from security at the Beverly Hilton hotel on Wilshire Boulevard at 3:43 p.m."
The writer could have used the past perfect, but didn't have to. It's common to keep the simple past in these cases. The writer did not judge the time gap between the response to the 911 call and Rosen's saying so sufficiently long to warrant reporting them as occurring in different time periods.
jooneyex5) Lieutenant Rosen said that detectives had arrived to conduct what he said was a full-scale investigation into the death.

This seems like a hybrid type of reported speech. Lietenant Rosen probably said something like the following:

"The detective arrived to conduct a full investigation into the death."

So the use of the past perfect was proper in this case, but I don't know why the writer opted not to use the past perfect in the above case, which is no different from this sentence in terms of reporting a past time event.
This is most likely a backshift of Detectives have arrived to conduct a full-scale investigation into the death.
I take it to mean that the detectives were on the scene already at the time Rosen made this statement.

The difference may be this: The 911 call is part of the main story of what happened. The arrival of detectives is a current result (or rather the then-current result) of the main story. Besides, writers don't like to repeat the same grammatical structure over and over. The story becomes boring to read without this kind of variety in sentence structures.
____________________

The past perfect is a backshift of the simple past OR a backshift of the present perfect.

CJ
Veteran Member53,294
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Thank you very much for your answers, CJ. Once again you came to my rescue.Emotion: smile

Now that I have read your answers, I have some questions to ask.

1. Grammar books say the past perfect is used when you denote a situation completed in the past prior to some other past situation/time. So the past perfcet is just like the past tense in that it has an already established reference point.

The main problem I encounter with real world examples is that I sometimes can't tell which is the right reference point. With the past tense, it is easy to identify the point of reference, which is usually the utterance time. But that is not the case for the past perfect.

As for example 2, you say, "The activities associated with backing up Aretha Franklin happened prior to some primary time reference in the text not necessarily in this sentence."

How do you know that? How do you know that the previous statement(Whitney Houston being the daughter of her) is ruled out or may be ruled out as a candidate for the reference point? Could you please explain?

2. " The writer did not judge the time gap between the response to the 911 call and Rosen's saying so sufficiently long to warrant reporting them as occurring in different time periods."

The time gap between the two events(Rosen's saying this and the response to 911 call) was minimal so that the writer didn't cosider them as occurring in different time periods. So when the time gap between two events occuring succesively isn't glaringly big, you can use the plain past instead of the past perfect. Did I understand you correctly? But it doesn't seem to me that the event of his making the statement followed right after the event of the emergency workers responding to the call. What am I missing here?

3. "This is most likely a backshift of Detectives have arrived to conduct a full-scale investigation into the death.
I take it to mean that the detectives were on the scene already at the time Rosen made this statement." "The past perfect is a backshift of the simple past OR a backshift of the present perfect."

ex) He said that Adam had eaten a sandwitch.

So this sentence could mean any of the following:

A: He said, "Adam ate a sandwich."
B: He said, "Adam has eaten a sandiwich."

This gives rise to the question, "Which interpretation is the correct one?". How do you know these things? Where should I look to find a clue?

I'd greatly appreciate it if you could help me one more time.
jooney Grammar books say the past perfect is used when you denote a situation completed in the past prior to some other past situation/time.
As a backshift of the simple past, yes, that's a good way to describe it.
As a backshift of the present perfect the idea of completion is not necessarily accurate.

Kate has lived there for many years.
Kate had already lived there for many years at the time of the accident. She still lives there now.

(Kate's living there cannot be said to be "completed" prior to the accident because she was still living there after the accident.)
jooney So the past perfcet is just like the past tense in that it has an already established reference point.
I'm not sure what you mean by this. The past perfect implies a time period prior to a reference point in the past. The past tense can establish the past as a reference point on its own. It doesn't need another "already established" reference point. The moment I say, "I wrote a letter" I'm setting up a reference point in the past, and I can start a conversation like that, without any previous words that establish a reference point.
jooneyI sometimes can't tell which is the right reference point.
The reference point can be vague. That's true.
jooneyAs for example 2, you say, "The activities associated with backing up Aretha Franklin happened prior to some primary time reference in the text not necessarily in this sentence." How do you know that? How do you know that the previous statement(Whitney Houston being the daughter of her) is ruled out or may be ruled out as a candidate for the reference point?
ex2) She was the daughter of Cissy Houston, a gospel and pop singer who had backed up Aretha Franklin, and the cousin of Dionne Warwick. (Ms. Franklin is Ms. Houston’s godmother.)

The event of backing up Aretha Franklin completed prior to the event that Ms. Houston was born. This justifies the use of the past perfect. Correct? (That is, one event completed before another event in the past)
_______________________

I was saying, in effect, that the birth of either Ms. Houston has nothing whatsoever to do with the use of the past perfect here. It seems to me that past perfect is used here simply to say that the time when Cissy Houston backed up Aretha Franklin was long ago, and that she's not backing up Aretha Franklin now, and that she probably stopped backing up Aretha Franklin some time ago, at a time considerably before the time period of this story about her daughter's death.
jooney2. " The writer did not judge the time gap between the response to the 911 call and Rosen's saying so sufficiently long to warrant reporting them as occurring in different time periods."The time gap between the two events(Rosen's saying this and the response to 911 call) was minimal so that the writer didn't cosider them as occurring in different time periods. So when the time gap between two events occuring succesively isn't glaringly big, you can use the plain past instead of the past perfect. Did I understand you correctly?
Yes. In general that's correct. Note, however, that the judgment of what is a short time gap and what is a long time gap is for the writer to determine. And, by the way, this is not done consciously. The writer just writes what he feels is right without taking more than half a second to think about it.
jooneyex) He said that Adam had eaten a sandwitch.

So this sentence could mean any either of the following:

A: He said, "Adam ate a sandwich."
B: He said, "Adam has eaten a sandiwich."
Yes. (You certainly have a lot of different and creative ways of spelling "sandwich", by the way. Emotion: smile )
jooneyThis gives rise to the question, "Which interpretation is the correct one?". How do you know these things?
I don't know how to make you a native speaker through some magic. I just know because of what I would say if I were in these situations. (Not very helpful, but I have no explanation at this time.)

CJ
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