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In the first paragraph of his famous novel, Tim O'Brien writes:

Billy Boy Watkins was dead, and so was Frenchie Tucker. Billy Boy had died of fright....

Since the event described in the second sentence happened earlier in time than the event in the first sentence, past perfect seems the obvious choice.

I was wondering if it was possible to use "died" (past simple) in the second sentence:

Billy Boy Watkins was dead, and so was Frenchie Tucker. Billy Boy died of fright....

Why? Since in order to be dead, one has to die first. Therefore, the proper sequence of events is still obvious:

1) he died of fright

2) then he was dead

Is the above assumption correct? If so, which of these two versions is the better choice? If not, why not?
Comments  
PastsimpleBilly Boy Watkins was dead, and so was Frenchie Tucker. Billy Boy had died of fright....

When they investigated the cause of death what did they find? (first past) They found that he had died of fright. (previous past)
Hi,

Billy Boy Watkins was dead, and so was Frenchie Tucker. Billy Boy had died of fright....

It's true that you can say it with either tense. However, the literary effect is somewhat different.

The writer begins to 'speak' at the time they are both dead. The Past Perfect gives more information but keeps the focus on the same time, the time of speaking. The Simple Past shifts the reader's attention back to the time that Billy Bob died.

Best wishes, Clive
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Thank you very much.

That's what I was hinting at...

Since O'Brien (as you pointed out) begins to "speak" at the time they are both dead and uses past perfect to keep the focus on the same time, he does so to continue "speaking" about the time they are both dead.

If he had used past simple in the second sentence, he would have shifted the focus on the time of Billy's death and e.g. started to explain how exactly Billy Boy died, what happened on the day he died etc...

Did I get it right?
Hi again,

Yes, you're right.

Clive
Billy Boy Watkins was dead, and so was Frenchie Tucker. Billy Boy had died of fright....
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hi. thank you very much
i don't know, but it's pretty simple to use and pretty difficult to explain. maybe past perfect is used when an incident is occurred before the past simple