A piece of narrative that is set in the past (with only very occasional references to the present day)

'To her friends, Fiona must have represented the quintessence of piety. For them, belief was a constant struggle; to her, it came almost without effort, even though she practiced it in an obscure, half-forgotten village church.'

I wonder whether I am correct in reading the second sentence as a diluted form of reported speech - telling us what Fiona's friends think of her piety, in contrast to their own? If so, should the sentence not be: 'For them, belief had been a constant struggle'? But, while this feels natural to me, saying 'to her, it had come almost without effort' doesn't (in this context). So perhaps it would be better to stick to past simple throughout?

Many thanks, Sophie

  • 1
    The simple past there ("to her, it came") has the aspect of the continual, the ongoing, the habitual. It is a verbal analogue of their "constant struggle".
    – TimR
    Jul 6, 2015 at 12:44

1 Answer 1


The simple past is correct. past perfect ("had been") is used to refer to an action that happened before another action in the past. While here the "constant struggle" is continuous and ongoing, so simple past is needed to correctly convey that.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .