Background:She was held back when a bunch of people beat her father to death.

After the crowd dispersed, she remained like a stone statue,her body and limbs in the positions they were in when the two old janitors had held her back.

From The Three-body Problem, A novel translated from Chinese.

Is the verb tense (bold part) correct? Shouldn't it be had been

  • 2
    "were" sounds right to me, but I just know what I know from being a native speaker. My lack of formal education means that I cannot explain why I think it is correct.
    – Eli Harold
    Mar 17, 2022 at 13:51
  • @Harold Thanks, That is sufficient to dispel my doubts. I just want to know how native speakers feel about this sentence.
    – ForOU
    Mar 17, 2022 at 14:32
  • Had been sounds more awkward, though it makes sense. Mar 17, 2022 at 15:26
  • Had been sounds fine to me, but perhaps it would be better followed by the janitors held her back. Two past perfects in one sentence is a bit much. Mar 17, 2022 at 15:57

1 Answer 1


Using were here more appropriately conveys the meaning as there was no change in the positions of the body and limbs - the positions were (and remained) the same. Using had been suggests that the body and limbs were no longer in those same positions, which is contrary to the statement that they remained in those positions.

To most readers either form would be considered equivalent and as a British English speaker both sound correct.

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