I'm reading an article in the NYT and it has the next sentence:

A few victims had been assigned local detectives who asked them to send along any relevant information, and the women now shared what they had.

I cannot understand the use of the Past Perfect tense here, as far as I know it is used when one is talking about an action which happened before a particular moment in the past. And with this knowledge I'm making no hand of the meaning of the sentence.

I have two ideas of what it might mean:

  • A few victims were assigned local detectives
  • A few victims had been assigned by/to local detectives

Could anyone help me to understand the sentence?

Thank you very much.

1 Answer 1


A situation is being described that took place at some point in the past, say, in July.

Prior to that situation (i.e. prior to July), each woman was assigned (given, if you will) a local detective. In, say, May. Or April. Prior to July.

Who then (the detective) asked her (the woman) to email, phone, or fax anything that might be relevant to the case.

And now (i.e. in July) each woman did so (send relevant information to her assigned detective).

And there you have it.

  • I would make one amendment - "And now (by July, say) each woman had previously given information to their assigned detective, but that process has come to an end, and in the present they are sharing with each other what they provided in secret / in isolation previously."
    – Cargill
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 21:38
  • " ...the women now shared what they had." can be ambiguous: it could mean "shared what they had in their possession all along" or "shared what they had provided to their detective in the collection period". It could be better written to avoid this.
    – Cargill
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 23:02
  • @Cargill: We work with what they give us, chief. Don't be so pedantic. Do you want me to rewrite it in terza rima? Sheesh.
    – Ricky
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 23:15
  • Seems odd to decry pedantry on a forum where grammatical and usage quality are the key theme, but there you go. To be less pedantic perhaps, but more forthright, I think "And now (i.e. in July) each woman did so (send relevant information to her assigned detective)." is not the correct reading of the "past".
    – Cargill
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 22:50
  • So a simple addition to the original might make it clearer. A few victims had previously been assigned local detectives...
    – puppetsock
    Commented Feb 14, 2020 at 19:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.