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If you were narrating a personal story with past and past perfect events and then you want to end up your story with "before the days of mobile phones", you say:

And this was before the days of mobile phones

not

And this had been before the days of mobile phones

and as for the reasoning is it because the time of the days of the mobile phones is The Present (now), or because there is no past simple event to work as a clear Reference Time (RT)?

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It isn't "the days of mobile phones" that you're talking about. It's the referent of "this", i.e., your whole story. "The days of mobile phones" is just your reference time (period). Since your story took place (started and finished) before the days of mobile phones, was is the correct choice.

  • Okay it is as I thought. Perhaps I was not clear, but I meant exactly as you said. The most important thing to me is that the reference time is now vs before, and now is the period since first mobile invented. Now is like nowadays. The other important tip is how you said that the whole story happened I mean started and finished like a single event; this is cool! Oh, and thank you very much. – learner Dec 30 '13 at 17:34
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    No, the reference time is "the days of mobile phones" and while that is really a time period we are still in, the important point is the beginning of that period. In other words, let's pick a different reference time period that has actually ended. For example, we'd still say, "that was before the days of the Clinton administration." – Jim Dec 30 '13 at 17:42
  • Oh, but what comes before a past reference time is a past perfect whether it is a single event or a longer action that finished by that past reference time. What I've just said and what you said in the answer above about the story being started and finished (even Clinton's which is clearer) have the same weight in terms of argument even though I know the right choice is was. It's a matter of reasoning. I could not get a clear cut. – learner Dec 30 '13 at 17:55
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    had been implies that it is (or could be) different now, at the time of telling. – Jim Dec 30 '13 at 18:20
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    @learner I believe that even in narration, A was before B is the good (maybe even the only) choice; unless there is a was inside B, then it should become A had been before [B-subj was B-predicate]. – Damkerng T. Dec 30 '13 at 19:53

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