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Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

They had argued for many hours, and reached no agreement. The Old Bear was too stubborn to retreat, but neither would he rush headlong up the Milkwater, seeking battle. In the end, nothing had been decided but to wait a few more days for the men from the Shadow Tower, and talk again if they did not appear.

I understand the context of this sentence, but I can't wrap my head around the grammar behind this clause:

It had been decided to talk again if they did not appear.

This clause seems strange to me in two ways:

  1. If I change it the other way, it does not make sense. The main part is in past simple, whereas the subordinate part is in past perfect. It would make more sense to me putting subordinate part in future tense (e.g. they will decide).

If they did not appear, it had been decided to talk again

  1. If I were to put it in present tense, how would it be then?

it was decided to talk again if they don't appear

Or is it subjunctive?
I'm totally lost here. Hope someone can clarify it for me or post some resources to help me get the hang of it.

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  • The people at the meeting(or whatever it was) decided "We will wait a few more days, and if the men don't appear we will talk about it again." As the meeting was in the past, the decision is reported as [they would] talk again if [the men] did not appear. Jun 28, 2020 at 8:24
  • @KateBunting thank you so much. Can you tell what is the rule behind it? I mean using passive tense with infinitive (had been decided to talk) instead of simply "would talk"? Never encountered such a thing. Thanks in advance
    – artek
    Jun 28, 2020 at 9:00
  • 1
    It had been decided = a decision had been made. ...to talk = that they would talk. It's perfectly normal to use decide to do instead of decide that you will do. Jun 28, 2020 at 9:44
  • All variations of the verb tenses in the question are fine. Some may be less common than others, but they are all grammatical. Mixing verb tenses is very common, and any blanket prohibition against doing so is misguided. Not mixing them is a good rule of thumb when learning English, because they can be mixed in ways that are either awkward or nonsensical, but that doesn't mean they can't be mixed in a way that's normal. Jun 28, 2020 at 14:04
  • You wrote, "If I change it the other way, it does not make sense". What is, "the other way"? Sep 24, 2022 at 1:34

1 Answer 1

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I am having a little trouble figuring out what your question is. However, I will make a guess and you can down-vote my answer if it's not useful.

Consider the following sentence:

We decided to talk again if the men from the Shadow Tower did not arrive. (EX1)

I am guessing that your complaint is that the verb "did" should not be conjugated in the past-tense.

There are many variations on this sentence with verbs other than "did":

  • We decided to talk again if the men from the Shadow Tower were not to arrive. (EX2)

  • We decided to talk again if the men from the Shadow Tower failed to arrive. (EX3)

  • We decided to talk again if the men from the Shadow Tower did not make it on time. (EX4)

  • We decided to talk again if the men from the Shadow Tower were not on time to class. (EX5)

  • We decided to talk again if the men from the Shadow Tower were late. (EX6)

  • We decided to talk again if they showed-up late. (EX7)

  • We decided to talk again if they showed-up late. (EX8)

  • We decided to talk again if the Men from the Shadow Tower were overly dilatory. (EX9)

  • We decided to talk again if they were caught in the lurch. (EX 10)

  • We decided to talk again if the Men from the Shadow Tower were postponed. (EX 11)

  • We decided to sleep if we were tired. (EX 12)

  • We decided that, if we were tired, we would sleep. (EX 13)

  • We decided that, if the Men from the Shadow Tower did not appear, we would talk again. (EX 14)

The sentences deal with three different frames of reference (three different times). For the sentences pertaining to men from the Shadow Tower, we have:

  1. The time at which some people argued and a decision was made.
  2. The time at which the the men from the Shadow Tower were expected to arrive.
  3. The time at which someone is re-counting all of these events.

The time at which the the men from the Shadow Tower were expected to arrive is in the past from the point of view of the narrator. As such, we can talk about the arrival or non-arrive of the men from the Shadow Tower as if it was in the past because -well- it was in the past.

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