"He graduated from Havard last year. He majored in philosophy. And yesterday, Sarah told me that he (had also majored/ also majored) sociology."

Can I also use "also majored" instead of "had also majored" not concerning the tense of its main clause("told"), but simply matching the tense with "graduated", which is not its main clause, if the time of "also majored" is clear? Or at least, is this phenomenon undoubtedly commonly occurs among native speakers? I would appreciate many opinions.

  • Many native English speakers would drop the had and use the past tense. BBC correspondents and news bulletins are increasing dropping both present perfect and past perfect tenses in favour of the simple past - a great pity in my view but possibly and indication of the direction the language is taking. – Ronald Sole Aug 17 '20 at 9:19
  • In speech the past perfect is often not used where the temporal relationships are clear without it. The time when it is used is when the speaker wants to set (or maintain) the temporal focus at the later point already established; but with reported speech like this, the temporal focus generally stays at the time of speaking anyway, so this function is not relevant. – Colin Fine Aug 17 '20 at 10:56

Three full stops, so three sentences (one missing the beginning capital). In the third sentence Sarah told me (in the past) about something that was already in the past, so he had majored in Sociology is correct. In informal speech, "he had" may be contracted to "he'd", and I think that "he majored" would also be acceptable. There is no real grammatical connection with the tense of graduated in a previous sentence.


"She told me he [had] majored in sociology."
(example simplified)

This sentence is an example of reported speech (when you talk about what someone else said without actually quoting them). The verb in reported speech may be shifted back in time. In this case, that would be from the past tense of "told" to the past perfect of "had majored". However, in this example, that backshift is optional.

busyteacher.org "backshifting in reported speech"
"6. Optional Backshifting
Sometimes, backshifting is optional in reported speech. When the speaker articulating the reported speech uses the past tense in the main verb but the situation in the direct speech is still true, backshifting is optional. This is true when the reported verb is in the simple past, past progressive or past perfect."

In the example sentence, it is still true that "he majored in sociology" so the backshift is optional, and you can use either "majored" or "had majored". The link above also gives examples where backshift is obligatory.

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