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I am reading my text Why Do Friendships End? by Allison Hunter, there is a sentence confused me.

She referred to having seen the question in one of my articles, Mystery of Friendship.

I don't know why having seen be used in this, maybe it is also a new grammar point I don't understand.

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This is reported speech, also known as indirect speech, and so has been back-shifted. If the person had been quoted, the line would perhaps have read:

I had seen the question in one of your articles, Mystery of Friendship.

When one talks about something that another person said (or wrote) in the past, without directly quoting that person, the tense of the reported verbs is shifted one degree farther into the past to indicate the time frame when the speech occurred.

Suppose that some time ago, John said "I am going to the store" to Martha, using the simple present. If Martha had later recounted this to Fred, she might have said:

John said that he was going to the store.

shifting the verb from "is" (simple present) to "was" (simple past).

If instead John said:

I was going to the store, but I've changed my mind

then Martha might report this as:

John said that he had been planning to go to the store, but didn't.

thus shifting "was" a step further back to "had been"

Depending on the situation, and the exact meaning the speaker wants to convey, back-shifting may be optional or required.


The original speaker would have used "I had seen" because this is an action in the past, now completed, so the past perfect is appropriate.


For more on back-shifting, see:

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  • I see, actually you reminded me of I learnt indirect quotes in my high school period but it was still basic and simple. Apr 1, 2022 at 1:22
  • @Beau Good. Back-shifting can apply to both simple and complex indirect speech. I hope the answer was helpful to you. You can upvote it if you think it is useful. You can accept it if you think it is the correct answer. Apr 1, 2022 at 1:25
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The phrasal verb "referred to" takes a noun after it. "Having seen" is gerund form of the action verb "have seen" that acts as a noun in the clause. "Have seen" describes that the action "see" is completed, i.e. perfect aspect. So the gerund "having seen" also means the action "see" is completed.

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  1. She said, "I have seen the question in one of your articles, Mystery of Friendship." (quoted speech)

  2. She said that she had seen the question in one of my articles, Mystery of Friendship." (reported speech)

  3. She referred to having seen the question in one of my articles, Mystery of Friendship. (reported speech)

The only reason that "having seen" has been used in the 3rd sentence is that the verb preceding it (i.e. refer to) calls for it. A simpler structure would be to use "seeing" in place of "having seen":

  1. She referred to seeing the question in one of my articles, Mystery of Friendship.

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