Tenses and verbs
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.”