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Hello all,

I've always been puzzled by the use of Past Simple in contexts like this:

Right after captain Ahab offended Stubb, Stubb, on his way inside the Pequod, thought to himself: «I was never served so before without giving a hard blow for it»

Why does he use the Past Simple for "was never"? Is his recent quarrel with Ahab looked upon as a past event? Even if so, can the Past Peferct tense be used?

Thank you in advance,
Anton
Comments  
In a more formal style, the present perfect would be more appropriate here. Here the use of a simple past verb is ok and common given the informal nature of it.
So it is just colloquial... Thank you, Ivanhr )
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In my view, the answer to your question has nothing to do with formal, informal or colloquial style. I see it as being all about LITERARY style. Melville chose the direct speech, simple past tense route; grammatically, he could equally have chosen indirect speech, past perfect. But that's what style is all about, and his choice is typical of a style of writing used in the mid-19c. And to good effect I think.

Following his quarrel with Ahab, Stubb is of the opinion that the manner in which Ahab had addressed him was more offensive than any way he'd ever been addressed before by others (one presumes in similar circumstances). In other words, Stubb is making a comparison between a relatively current event (his quarrel with Ahab) and similar events in a past time; hence the use of the past tense (note also the use of the passive voice to mean by others).

The past perfect aspect could not have been used in direct speech: *Stubb...thought to himself: 'I had never been served so before without giving a hard blow', though the present perfect would be fine: Stubb...thought to himself 'I have never been served so without giving a hard blow.'

But if indirect speech had been used, the past perfect would have been fine: Stubb...thought to himself that he had never been served so before without giving a hard blow.

BillJ
Hello, BillJ

Thank you for the detailed explanation. I know that Stubb is soliloquizing about himself in the passive voice.

Did I correctly understand you about this 'recent' quarrel not being past enough to justify the use of the Past Perfect, but OK for both the Past Simple (because it is in the Past) and the Present Perfect (because it is recent and fresh on Stubb's mind)?

Anton
Yes, that's correct - the 'current relevance' of the quarrel dictates the tense in this instance. Past perfect is used to express 'anterior time' when referring to to the past tense, but Stubb had no need of the past tense when thinking aloud because the quarrel was so recent. Had the quarrel taken place sometime earlier, Stubb may well have mused something like: "I recall that I was offended (past tense) by Ahab's attitude and that I had never been served so (past perfect) before without giving a hard blow for it."

BillJ
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Captain Ahab aside, both the simple past and the present perfect are used with always and never and ever without any change in meaning:

I always wanted to see Rome. = I have always wanted to see Rome.
I never liked him. = I have never liked him.

"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." (Mark Twain)

Americans tend to use the past tense more often than the British.

CB
Thank you, guys )

I never fell sick during that period

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