(Post copied, with minor alterations, from English Language & Usage on suggestion from a user.)
Recently, I’ve been editing a piece of writing written in first-person present tense. The narrator often switches between present and past tense, and there are several times when he refers to an event taking place further in the past, necessitating the past perfect.
Occasionally, I notice that the narrator refers to a past event, then a time before that, but he doesn’t use the past perfect. Usually, I would say this is incorrect, but time references and general context seem to make the past perfect redundant. Take this example:
The criminals’ retribution arrived without warning, and now I know that the missing men, vanished years ago, were taken by them.
Here you can see that the narrator uses ‘were,’ not ‘had been,’ even though the taking of the men happened before the arrival of the criminals’ retribution. Does the switching to present tense (‘now I know’) and the time reference ‘years ago’ in the past-participle clause remove the need for past perfect?
Switching back and forth between present and past does alter the perspective of time, so how much scope does the past perfect have?
If the narrator switches back to present tense, should we therefore revert to simple past when referring to events earlier than those in the sentence before the shift?
If we didn’t include the present tense ‘know,’ the subordinate clause would undoubtedly be written in past perfect.
See this example, which removes the shift to present tense:
The criminals’ retribution arrived without warning, and it was clear that the missing men, vanished years ago, had been taken by them.