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I have a question regarding using "had decided". I'm not sure if I can use either an infinitive form of a verb or a modal verb:

  • We had decided to call each other when we are in danger.
  • We had decided that we should call each other when we are in danger.

I think I've heard people use both, not sure if I can use past perfect with an infinitive and would/should/could.

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

There's nothing wrong with either of OP's constructions, and it's a bit pointless to speculate on possible nuances of meaning, but #1 is far more common overall. Perhaps that's partly because the infinitive form is more flexible. (counts from Google Books)...

He agreed to help (83,100)
He agreed that he would help (5)
He agreed he would help (7)

He asked to help (21,100)
He asked if he could help (19,900)

He asked to be [whatever] (1,180,000)
He asked that he should be [whatever] (12,000)

He wanted to help (537,000)
He refused to help (52,400)
He rushed to help (4,320)

(There aren't really any equivalents to OP's "that-clause" for those last three).

The fact of OP having used past perfect is totally irrelevant. I could change all instances of simple past he agreed above to he had agreed, and it wouldn't affect any of the ratios (I'd just get lower numbers overall, because past perfect is less common).

EDIT: I should say past perfect isn't totally irrelevant. To me, at least, it raises serious problems regarding "...when we are in danger". Personally, I'd let that pass if the main verb had been simple past (We decided...), but with past perfect the temporal flexibility of English is being stretched to breaking point. I think it would have to be expressed as "...if we were in danger" to pass muster.

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Wow, makes perfect sense! I'm learning so much, thanks to you! – Pato Mar 30 '13 at 16:04
@Pato: You might wish to note that "I agree to help when you get into trouble" implies I think you probably (or even certainly) will get into trouble at some point in the future. But there's no such expectation implied in "I agree to help if you get into trouble" (I might think it's highly likely, or highly unlikely, or I may not have an opinion; the word if itself implies nothing about this). – FumbleFingers Mar 30 '13 at 16:11

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