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I am reading the bestseller, "A Global History". Here is a sentence,'...These are equipped with sensors...the sensors can identify loose soils that had been prehistoric agricultural fields or were covering ancient caravan routes or architectural ruins.'Why the past tense is used here?

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I assume you mean the "were covering" part. This is probably because the previous phrase ("had been prehistoric") has pushed the writer to instinctively stick with the past tense. I certainly didn't see anything wrong with it on first reading and may well have written it the same way myself, however I think "are" would be more correct than "were". The sentence "the sensors can identify loose soils that were covering ancient caravan routes" would definitely read better with "are".

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  • Thank you very much for your explanation. I undertand the tense consistency principle here, but why the previous phrase "had been prehistoric" is used here? Feb 12 at 12:20
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    "had been ... fields" is perfectly correct. It means that what is currently just soil was in the past (and no longer is) prehistoric agricultural fields. This part refers to what the soil actually was. The next bit ("were covering ...") refers to what the soil is currently doing, hence the more correct use of the present tense. Feb 12 at 12:59

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