There are three chronological actions:

  1. A friend gives me a book.
  2. I like it.
  3. I tell my friend: "I like it."

I want to describe all three in one sentence with an attributive clause. Would it be grammatically correct to do it like so?

"I told my friend that I liked the book that he gave me."

Or should I use the past perfect tense for the attributive clause?

  • Being a native speaker, but one without an education in English, I do not know what an "attributive clause" is... but your sentence sounds good to me. Although, I would probably say "My friend gave me a book, and I told him I liked it." because it fits better to the chronological sequence of events and thus seems to "flow" better when saying, hearing, reading or writing it.
    – Eli Harold
    Feb 16, 2022 at 19:59
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    Your sentence does, however, put an emphasis on the fact that "you told your friend" instead of "my friend gave me" like mine does. So depending on your main point you could change the order for that reason
    – Eli Harold
    Feb 16, 2022 at 20:01
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    Your sentence is fine. Stick with the past tense unless you have a specific reason to use the past perfect: I told my friend's parents that I liked the book that he had given me just before his death.. Here, too, the simply past would be fine. Feb 16, 2022 at 21:09
  • @RonaldSole what about "We examined the samples which they sent us" or "Yesterday I went to the restaurant which you recommended"? Do you see any specific reason to use the past perfect? (e.g. "had sent")
    – Let
    Feb 17, 2022 at 9:06
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    I probably would use the past perfect (since you had to receive the gift before you read the book), but I wouldn't find the past tense wrong. Feb 17, 2022 at 9:31

1 Answer 1


should I use the past perfect tense for the attributive clause?

Both choices are viable. Because you're beginning the sentence "I told", it brings to mind the topic of reported speech. Since you refer to your friend as "he" instead of "you"... this is indirect speech. With indirect speech, you may use the past perfect tense to clarify the order of events. That's an argument in favor of past perfect.

In terms of the simple past, consider the meaning of "the book he gave me". In the present moment, you are telling the present listener (who is not your friend from the story) about "the book". The simple past is effective here. And it's accurate - the event occurred in the past. You may not be going out of your way to clarify the order of events, but it's still understandable from the context.

In the end, the decision may depend on the situation. If you're telling a long story set in the past, which has already been using past perfect, then to be consistent you could continue using it. If you're making a quick statement of fact in the present moment then it's less necessary.

"that" can be omitted. Especially the second "that".

"I told my friend (that) I liked the book (that) he gave me."

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