Q1. "He graduated from Havard last year. he majored in philosophy. And yesterday, Sarah told me that he (had also majored/ also majored) sociology."

Can I also use 'also majored' instead of 'had also majored' not concerning the tense of its main clause('told'), but simply matching the tense with 'graduated', which is not its main clause, if the time of 'also majored' is clear? Or at least, is this phenomenon undoubtedly commonly occurs among native speakers? I would appreciate many opinions.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Aug 23 '20 at 20:34

The Cambridge Grammar (CGEL:151-158) clearly explains the rules under which backshift is obligatory. In this example, the event reported lies in the past of both my utterance and Sarah's, and therefore I am free to backshift ("had majored") or not ("majored" or "has majored"). Simplicity favours the non-backshifted version.

One factor that would increase the likelihood of backshifting is if I do not believe Sarah (CGEL:157), though even then the non-backshifted version is acceptable:

Yesterday Sarah told me that he also majored in sociology - but she was lying.

In this case, however, I would prefer to say "had", and I would be most unlikely to say "has".

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