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The day after he was arrested, Vanzetti had told Katzmann that he carried the gun to protect his fish cart.

Source: Sacco & Vanzetti – Eli Bortman. The sentence is on page 35.

I would like to ask why Past perfect in the second part of the clause is used. The first Vanzetti's arrest occured and only then he talked to Katzmann.

  • Could you also provide the source of the example, such as the author and title? And also, some more of the surrounding text so that we can get a feel for what the author was trying to do? [a link:] (books.google.com/…)) – F.E. Feb 21 '15 at 10:20
  • Edit your question and include the link. Also, the more love you show for your question, the more love we'll show for our answers. In other words, you do the work of typing out some of the surrounding content. That's what good questions consist of. – user6951 Feb 21 '15 at 10:24
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    Could you put the excerpt (around a paragraph or so), and author and title info into the body of your question post, so that the potential answers can see it all without searching for it. – F.E. Feb 21 '15 at 10:25
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Specific uses of perfect constructions can only be understood by considering the discourse context in which they are used.

Here's your sentence in its context:

A repair shop employee [...] also testified that, while the repair shop had no record of Berardelli picking up the gun, the gun was not in the shop nor had it been sold, as unclaimed guns sometimes were.
 The day after he was arrested, Vanzetti had told Katzmann that he carried the gun to protect his fish cart. He said that he had bought the gun in Boston four or five years earlier—although he could not remember where—and had paid eighteen or nineteen dollars for it. Now in court he testified that he had actually bought the gun seven months earlier [...]

Vanzetti’s statement at the time of his arrest is cast in the past perfect because the context—the Reference Time (RT) to which all the events of this chapter are related—is the trial, several weeks after the arrest. The author is not at this point narrating the arrest but providing background for his narrative of the trial. Here's the first part of the excerpt with the simple pasts marked RT, indicating they speak of events occurring at RT, and the past perfects marked →RT, indicating they speak of events occurring before RT as background to the events at RT:

A repair shop employee [...] also testifiedRT that, while the repair shop hadRT no record of Berardelli picking up the gun, the gun wasRT not in the shop nor had it been sold→RT, as unclaimed guns sometimes were.
 The day after he was arrested, Vanzetti had told→RT Katzmann ...

But note what immediately follows this. The author treats the timeframe established by the past perfect had told as a secondary RT (I mark this as RT′) and proceeds to narrate events at the time of the arrest with simple pasts , employing the past perfect (→RT′) to bring in events before that time. The original past perfect has effected a time shift:

... that he carriedRT′ the gun to protect his fish cart. He saidRT′ that he had bought→RT′ the gun in Boston four or five years earlier—although he could not rememberRT′ where—and had paid→RT′ eighteen or nineteen dollars for it.

After this very brief narrative the author explicitly returns to his primary RT, where the constructions resume their original time reference:

Now in court he testifiedRT that he had actually bought→RT the gun seven months earlier [...]

Everything between the testimony of the repair-shop employee and Vanzetti’s testimony is background, introduced as such by a past perfect—which also provides an ‘anchor’ permitting the author to revert to his original narrative.

This is treated in more detail at What is the perfect, and how should I use it?, especially §4. When and how should I use the perfect?. The ‘rule of thumb’ offered there is

Use perfect constructions to introduce prior eventualities as context for the current discussion.

  • Great explanation!!But as the author mentions "the day after he was arrested , we know that the timeframe has changed(from the trial to the arrest)So was past perfect necessary to indicate the change of timeframe?Or is it to emphasize this changement. – user5577 Feb 21 '15 at 15:10
  • @user5577 It's not necessary, but it maintains the primary RT, the time of the trial, as the foreground 'anchor' so that the reader remains aware that the prior eventualities are being recalled because they are germane to that time. That is the function of the perfect: to relate prior eventualities to current eventualities. – StoneyB Feb 21 '15 at 15:16

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