How to tell past tense from past perfect tense in a noun clause led by "<Someone> insisted that..."?


I'm confused about a multiple-choice question:

The boy insisted that he __________ the glass. He said that he was not there then.

a. hadn't broken
b. didn't break
c. haven't broken
d. not break

The correct answer is a, while I would choose b if it was necessary to express the same meaning as the exercise sentence. Meanwhile, a seems correct to me as well, which I guess can be based on an explanation that the action "not break" happened before the moment "then". Therefore, could anybody show me the conventional way to make up this sentence? Can it be "The boy insisted that he didn't..." or "The boy insisted that he hadn't...", or both sound familiar to native speakers?

chenyi zhou

Posted 2015-12-21T09:28:27.793

Reputation: 139



Insisted is a reporting verb.
The sentence comes from a reported speech.

The backshift comes from the past simple to the past perfect.
The direct speech shows:

I didn't break the glass, he said.

This is what happened first. Altogether with the reporting verb yields:

The boy insisted that he hadn't broken the glass.


Posted 2015-12-21T09:28:27.793

Reputation: 3 795

1I wouldn't dismiss b. altogether. It would be idiomatic in the circumstances. The backshift, in this instance, is not essential. But I will upvote the answer. – WS2 – 2015-12-21T19:25:28.947

@WS2, thank you. I think these test-type questions are made in order for the student to use the backshift. – Alejandro – 2015-12-21T19:28:14.947


a. is correct.

b. is incorrect but is used sometimes.

Both are kind of awkward. Less awkward:

"The kid insisted he hadn't broken anything."

But, since it's multiple choice and all, just go with a.


Posted 2015-12-21T09:28:27.793

Reputation: 2 828