Here goes a sentence:

Alice said that she had translated three articles by five o’clock yesterday.

My question is as follows:

If what Alice exactly said was "I had translated three articles by five o’clock yesterday", would that be a grammatically correct sentence? Or should there the Simple Past tense be used, when telling about what happened yesterday by the exact time? My gut feeling tells me, it should (or might), but I can't find the reference hard as I try. Could anyone help?

P.S. I wouldn't have thought of asking it hadn't I come across the test where the sentence "I had translated three articles by five o’clock yesterday" was marked as the only correct answer.

  • No,it's p-e-r-f-e-c-t. The translating there precedes the saying.
    – Lambie
    Mar 30 '19 at 22:09
  • @Lambie Were it "by the time the film started", yes, and there'd be no question about it, but having nothing to move further into the past from...
    – Victor B.
    Mar 30 '19 at 22:15
  • @Lambie I'm afraid you don't get my drift--anything that happened in the past precedes telling about it.
    – Victor B.
    Mar 30 '19 at 22:22
  • ell.stackexchange.com/questions/97551/…
    – user3395
    Mar 30 '19 at 23:30
  • @userr2684291 Thanks for the link, but the question there even if it might seem to be related to mine, then somewhat rather distantly, at least for my money. Besides, I don't find those explanations to be of much help without any links to reliable sources--just personal opinions.
    – Victor B.
    Mar 31 '19 at 0:12

There is usually a reason for using the PP.

Context: What did she say she did yesterday by 5 o'clock? - Alice said she translated three articles by 5 o'clock yesterday. - That means at 5 o'clock yesterday, the work was done. The simple past signals a finished state or condition or activity in the past. There is no specificity to "pastness" of the utterance.

Context: What did she say she had done by 5 o'clock yesterday? - Alice said she had translated three articles by 5 o'clock today. - That means at 5 o'clock, the work **had been done. The past perfect emphasizes the fact the translations came before that time. The simple past does not.

The point on the timeline, five o'clock, could be something like:

Alice said she had translated three articles by 5 o'clock** but the fourth one she only translated after that.

The past perfect is used to emphasize something. The past perfect is always used contrastively with another tense either explicitly or by an implied contextual verb.. One never uses it ex-nihilo. :)

So, in the OP's sample sentence, its use would be predicated by surrounding context that is not given.

  • And would I be right saying that in the past tense "by 7 o'clock" will always imply "before clocks stroke seven"?
    – Victor B.
    Mar 31 '19 at 18:57
  • Well, it would be up to and including it.
    – Lambie
    Mar 31 '19 at 20:59
  • @Lambie Then what is the difference between: "She translated it by 5 o'clock = it was translated at 5 o'clock" and "She translated it at 5 o'clock = it was translated at 5 o'clock"? Apr 1 '19 at 14:41
  • @Lambie You need a separate question from me? Apr 1 '19 at 14:55

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