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I have just started learning grammar and some of the rules are confusing, especially tenses. I am finding this one, in particular, difficult to understand. Which one of these would be better suited in, say, the following sentence?

No matter what you say, I assure you I think that the evening we spent together was/had been fantastic.

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The first one (using was) is completely correct the other one can not be used since you are not telling the story in the past. I will explain it a little bit more.

No matter what you say, I assure you I think that the evening we spent together was fantastic.(Correct)

You are telling to a person that (yesterday) was a fantastic evening, this occurred in the past and the action is over. It does not mean however that you won't have another fantastic evening.

No matter what you say, I assure you I think that the evening we spent together had been fantastic.(Incorrect)

You could use this only if you are talking about a past situation continuously. For example,

I was telling you yesterday that the evening we spent together had been fantastic (although was can be used as well)

OR

He told me that the evening we spent together had been fantastic.

Although, you can see that with using had been the meaning changes dramatically.

Had been is not really in usage. Try to avoid it when having conversations.

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