Tenses and verbs

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INSIGHT - Co-or­di­nated by JANE F. RAGAVAN

YOUR QUES­TIONS AN­SWERED by FADZI­LAH AMIN

IREFER to your col­umn ti­tled Luck out on July 7, 2011. I’d like to ask about the ques­tion a reader had posed on the sen­tence:

“June in­formed that there was/ were no re­ply from Mag­gie af­ter she called/had called three times on yes­ter­day/this morn­ing/march 7.”

You had kindly given the right an­swer: “June said that there had been no re­ply from Mag­gie af­ter she called three times yes­ter­day/this morn­ing/on March 7.”

I won­der if it’s still gram­mat­i­cally cor­rect if I write: “June said that there was no re­ply from Mag­gie af­ter she had called three times yes­ter­day/this morn­ing/on March 7.”

From what I’ve un­der­stood, the past per­fect tense is used to de­scribe an ac­tion that oc­curred be­fore an­other ac­tion in the past. Based on the above sen­tence, the call had been made be­fore there was no re­ply. It hap­pened be­fore an­other ac­tion oc­curred. – De­siree

It is good to hear from some­one in Sabah. Let us look at my sen­tence and yours:

1. “June said that there had been no re­ply from Mag­gie af­ter she called three times yes­ter­day/this morn­ing/ on March 7.” (my sen­tence)

2. “June said that there was no re­ply from Mag­gie af­ter she had called three times yes­ter­day/this morn­ing/on March 7.” (your sen­tence)

There are two places in these sen­tences where a past per­fect tense can be used. One is in the first part of the reporting clause, where I used it in “had­been” af­ter a reporting verb (“said”) in the past tense. The other place is where you used it in “had called” “to de­scribe an ac­tion that oc­curred be­fore an­other ac­tion in the past.”

I used “had been” in­stead of “was” be­cause I think the orig­i­nal quoted speech was phrased this way:

June said, “There has been no re­ply from Mag­gie af­ter I called three times yes­ter­day/this morn­ing/on March 7.”

Since the reporting verb, “said”, is in the past tense, a verb in the present per­fect tense or sim­ple past tense in the quoted clause is usu­ally changed to one in the past per­fect tense. The sen­tence could there­fore be writ­ten as:

“June said that there had been no re­ply from Mag­gie af­ter she had called three times yes­ter­day/this morn­ing/on March 7.”

But I thought the sen­tence sounded too full of past per­fect verbs. The sec­ond use of the past per­fect was not re­ally nec­es­sary be­cause it was clear that June’s calls must have come be­fore the “no re­ply”. That is why I used the sim­ple past tense (“called”) in the sec­ond verb. Here are some sen­tences from re­spectable web­sites on the In­ter­net with a sim­i­lar verb pat­tern to mine in re­ported speech:

“She said that there had been no re­ac­tion from Down­ing Street ear­lier this year when former prime min­is­ter Tony Blair vis­ited Mr Obama in Washington.” (BBC News web­site, Feb 21, 2009)

“The Safe­guard­ing Chil­dren re­port, pro­duced by Of­sted and seven other in­spec­torates, said that there had been no progress since the chil­dren’s care sys­tem was ex­am­ined three years ago.” (From The Times, July 9, 2008)

Your use of the sim­ple past (“was”) af­ter the past reporting verb (“said”) would be cor­rect if the orig­i­nal quoted speech was:

June said, “There is no re­ply from Mag­gie af­ter I called three times yes­ter­day/this morn­ing/on March 7.”

When the sen­tence is re­ported us­ing the past reporting verb “said”, the sim­ple present tense verb “is” is then changed to the sim­ple past tense “was” and the sim­ple past tense “called” is changed to the past per­fect “had been called”. Since there is only one past per­fect verb in the sen­tence, it sounds all right and can stay that way:

“June said that there was no re­ply from Mag­gie af­ter she had called three times yes­ter­day/this morn­ing/ on March 7.” (your sen­tence)

OR, you could dis­pense with the past per­fect verb al­to­gether, by writ­ing, “June said that there was no re­ply from Mag­gie af­ter she called three times yes­ter­day/this morn­ing/on March 7.” since it is clear which ac­tion came first.

Shan­ty­town or shanty town?

HOW do you spell “shan­ty­town”? Should it be spelled as one word or two?

Ox­ford Dic­tio­nary and Cam­bridge Dic­tio­nary have it as “shanty town” while Long­man Dic­tio­nary, Mer­riam Web­ster and dic­tio­nary.com have it as “shan­ty­town”.

None of the dic­tio­nar­ies of­fers both spellings. Which spell­ing is cor­rect, or are both ac­cept­able? – Michael

Both should be ac­cept­able. Go­ing by the dic­tio­nar­ies alone, all the Bri­tish English dic­tio­nar­ies I con­sulted, ex­cept the Long­man Dic­tio­nary of Con­tem­po­rary English, spell the term as two words, i.e. “shan­ty­town”. All the Amer­i­can English Dic­tio­nar­ies, of which the online Mer­riam Web­ster’s is one, spell it as one word, i.e. “shan­ty­town”.

When it comes to ac­tual us­age, how­ever, I found that both spellings are used by Bri­tish online news­pa­pers and the BBC. Here are some ex­am­ples:

An­other 54 peo­ple were wounded in the at­tack on the tented shan­ty­town, said Mo­hammed alQa­batis, a medic at the field hos­pi­tal set up in the square. (guardian.co.uk, Sept 24, 2011)

Doc­tors worked on bul­let wounds at a makeshift hos­pi­tal in Change Square, the name pro­test­ers have given the shanty town of tents they have staked out in the mid­dle of Sana’a. (Reuters and guardian.co.uk, Sept 25, 2011)

There was a car­ni­val-style wel­come for Brazil’s Pres­i­dent Luiz Ina­cio Lula da Silva when he vis­ited the favela, or shanty town, of Santa Marta in Rio de Janeiro. (BBC News, Rio de Janeiro, Feb 4, 2009)

He comes from the shan­ty­town of Can­ta­galo, which clings to one of the hills just be­hind Ipanema beach. (BBC News, Rio de Janeiro, July 22, 2011)

De­not­ing past ac­tion

THE fol­low­ing sen­tence was part of an es­say en­ti­tled, Write about a per­son who has worked hard to suc­ceed in life: “In ad­di­tion, he did re­vi­sion four to six hours a day to make sure that he could get good re­sults in his ex­am­i­na­tion.”

I think the verb did should be re­placed with does, although did is the past tense, which in­di­cates that the per­son did his re­vi­sion be­fore he suc­ceeded in life. Kindly ad­vise me. – Charles

The per­son in the es­say is ob­vi­ously not a stu­dent any more. So any re­vi­sion for ex­am­i­na­tions which he did was done in the past. “Did” is there­fore the cor­rect form of the verb to use.

I do find some­thing awk­ward in the sen­tence, though, which I have found in sen­tences of some stu­dents I used to teach. That is us­ing the phrase “he did re­vi­sion”. It would be bet­ter to write “he did his re­vi­sion”, like “he did his home­work.”

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