Sentence with "while" in a reported speech: is backshifting necessary?



Yesterday I saw a girl when I was parking my car. She was crying. She explained to me while her boyfriend was driving her home, they had had a terrible argument.Her boyfriend had stopped the car and had forced her out of it.

Is past perfect used had had because it is reported speech: I think so, direct speech would be "While my boyfriend was driving me home, we had a terrible argument" Is it necessary in that case ?


Posted 2015-12-21T18:47:28.590

Reputation: 5 564

6IMHO, there should be that before while. "She explained to me that while her boyfriend had been driving her home they had had a terrible argument." – CowperKettle – 2015-12-21T18:49:31.370

3@CopperKettle, you can omit that from the beginning of the reported speech. I also agree that was driving should be replaced by had been driving so that the direct speech proposed by the OP work. – Alejandro – 2015-12-21T19:19:29.810

1+1 for the "that before while". I personally don't know many native speakers who are so conscientious about tense shifting in reported speech that they'd say "had been driving her home..." – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2015-12-21T19:20:12.320

@TRomano - you are right on the second count, as my foray into COCA attests. But coming to think of it logically, it's puzzling. There are two "pasts", and one is anterior to another. So how could one happen while another happens...

– CowperKettle – 2015-12-21T19:21:45.937

3I'd omit the "that" if the verb phrase had been "She said, while her boyfriend..." but with "explained to me" I think your instincts to use "that" are correct. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2015-12-21T19:23:35.560

@TRomano, well that's true. I've seen some reporting structures and I've realised that they don't omit that unless the reporting verb is said. – Alejandro – 2015-12-21T19:30:11.690

1We would also omit that if it had been, "As she explained to me, while...." In fact, we couldn't use "that" there. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2015-12-21T19:42:50.547

I'm curious what else you guys are going to come up with. The puzzle is more psychological than linguistic, I think. – Ricky – 2015-12-22T00:09:06.433

Ricky said the puzzle was more psychological than linguistic. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2015-12-22T01:14:42.370

Ricky said that the puzzle was more psychological than linguistic. :-) – Mark Hubbard – 2015-12-24T01:23:52.370

3Seriously now, if you omit "that" before "while" in the original poster's example, then it can be inferred you were present (i. e., sitting in the back seat of the car) "while her boyfriend was driving her home." And "had had" is correct as well in the original poster's example. I feel sorry for user5577. – Mark Hubbard – 2015-12-24T01:37:33.583



  • (She explained to me) is REPORTING SPEECH, and the rest {that(while her boy friend was driving her home...out of it) reported.

Though without the use of "that" the sense can well be imagined, we are very much inclined to retaining the same as the question is about narration change and that too with back shifting.

Barring exceptional exceptions, if the reporting speech is in past tense, the reported speech should be in the "corresponding past tense" of the tense used in direct speech.

Let us scrutinize the direct speech. It could be seen that except 'driving of the car' every thing else is shifted back. Alright. We would distance the "driving" farther by using Past Perfect Continuous Tense( had been driving)

"To have" can function as both principal and auxiliary verb. Not only in indirct speech but also in any demanding situation HAS HAD, HAVE HAD or HAD HAD is used all the white. We can still find in our mind's eye the milkmaid of Dr. Edward Jenner's description moving fearlessly among small pox patients because she HAD HAD Cow pox.

So all we can suggest is to put 'that', first , change ' was' to 'had been' next and retaining ' had had' last. The text is now perfectly balanced.

As regards use of "while", in whatever way we look at it — as a temporal preposition with time related complement clause or a conventional time subordinator(conjunction)for simultaneous activity/ reference to background to the focus-activity in the main clause, there is not much of a difference. We are to use past perfect in both as stated ealier.

Barid Baran Acharya

Posted 2015-12-21T18:47:28.590

Reputation: 942


Right, okay ... I don't know from "backshifting" or "downshifting," but how about this:

I saw this girl when I was parking my car last night. She was crying. She explained she had a terrible fight with her boyfriend while he was giving her a ride home earlier, which ended in his pulling over and forcing her out of the car.

The presence of the time markers ("while [...] earlier") renders the use of the past perfect unnecessary (in accordance with the prophecy) but not altogether superfluous either. You could still use it. There's gotta be an official term for a time marker, but I am not familiar with it.

It's still too wordy and awkward, even with the cosmetic changes I've introduced to it, and even if you replace "while" with "when" or "as." It needs to be rewritten - simplified. How about this:

As it turned out, her boyfriend was giving her a ride home earlier, and they had a terrible fight. He then pulled over and demanded in an icy tone that she leave his vehicle at once. She had no choice but to comply.

The time marker, "earlier," works beautifully here, doesn't it? Happy hunting.


Posted 2015-12-21T18:47:28.590

Reputation: 2 828

See my comment (was on the road or would've responded earlier). – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2015-12-22T01:16:08.017

@TRomano: Which one? I beg your pardon: I've been reading a novel in French for a few hours, and I'm a bit drunk right now. – Ricky – 2015-12-22T01:18:30.657

My final comment about your comment. Drunk from reading about people drinking? Now that would be more psychological than linguistic. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2015-12-22T01:20:07.660

1@TRomano: I said I thought it was psychological. A minor distinction, but a distinction nevertheless. No, drunk of the excellent cabernet savignon I got from a friend in Napa. Not totally drunk, either. Still capable of thinking straight, but with, like, an impressionist touch. The underpainting is still nearly photographically precise, but the final layer is a bit blurry. – Ricky – 2015-12-22T01:24:18.430

1In vino veritas. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2015-12-22T01:25:56.520

@TRomano: True, but the quality of the veritas seems to be directly proportional to the quality of the vino (in the broad sense of the word: why anyone would drink whiskey or vodka or gin or tequila when there's cognac in the world is beyond me: folks should trust more in the French (and Californian) grapes! ... et voila ...) – Ricky – 2015-12-22T01:34:06.740

Now who is the benevolent genius who downvoted this answer? A petition to the Nobel Committee is in order, as well as one to the Pope: their noble and chivalrous action merits both the prize and canonization. Hip, hip, hooray! – Ricky – 2015-12-22T04:16:12.113

Even though the verbal economy and simplicity you propose are good things, I downvoted because your answer deliberately skirts the question, to what extent we backshift when reporting, indirectly, what someone else has said. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2015-12-22T11:50:30.943

@TRomano: First of all, no one really knows to what extent we do anything. Second of all, please don't downvote answers, it's uncouth. Third of all, I'm plastered right now, so please don't provoke me. – Ricky – 2015-12-22T11:55:00.557

I agree it's uncouth to downvote questions anonymously (some would disagree) but it's SOP here on SE to downvote and upvote. It's the nature of the beast. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2015-12-22T12:02:32.990

@TRomano: I don't think it gentlemanly to conform, especially when dealing with the beast. I've upvoted quite a few; I have issued no downvotes; and I'm quite happy about it. Why don't you try it. – Ricky – 2015-12-22T12:07:20.117

Sir, I shall consider it ... tomorrow. – Tᴚoɯɐuo – 2015-12-22T12:35:00.417

1@Ricky- I up-voted you to zero. – Mark Hubbard – 2015-12-24T02:53:57.517