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    #1

    past and present tenses - which one is this?

    I am an ESL teacher in China. I'm stumped on how to explain a particular example of tense - I'm sure my answer is correct, but I don't know which tense category it belongs to. I need to demonstrate that I am correct (if indeed I am) because the Chinese English textbook gives what I think is an incorrect answer.
    this is the example:
    My students had to ask a friend if he/she is afraid of anything. When I asked them to tell me what their friends had said, a student responded, "I asked my friend what she's afraid of and she said she was afraid of spiders".
    I corrected her; I said "you should have said "... and she said she IS afraid of spiders ......" "
    However, the textbook says the answer is "..was afraid.."
    I explained that this means her friend was afraid of spiders in the past, but no longer is, but of course, the students won't have a bar of this, because the text book says so.
    am i right?
    how can I explain this; what tense is it? past perfect? past continuous?

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    #2

    Re: past and present tenses - which one is this?

    This is usually called reported speech or indirect speech depending on what textbook/reference you look at. And the answer is both are correct but depending on the student's level it might be easier to just simplify it to always past.

    For example,

    Bob says 'I am Bob.'
    He said his name was/is Bob.

    Generally (that Does not mean 100% of the time) it's safe to just 'back-shift' the verb and be done with it. There are numerous irregularities to this though. But I would hold off explaining that to student until they've reached an intermediate level or above.

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    #3

    Re: past and present tenses - which one is this?

    Read this post. Then come back here with your thoughts.
    http://www.usingenglish.com/forum/as...5873-were.html


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    #4

    Re: past and present tenses - which one is this?

    thanks 2006. that's exactly the conundrum I'm talking about. However, Chinese students would be perplexed and dissatisfied to be given this optional scenario; they want (and so I need) definitive answers based on grammatical correctness and textbook authority! I'm inclined to the 'are' view - ie, that there's no particularly imperative to match the tenses. can you put a tense label on the 'he TOLD me you ARE a doctor' unmatched tense option?
    Last edited by linjie; 01-Sep-2009 at 03:18. Reason: incomplete

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    #5

    Re: past and present tenses - which one is this?

    [COLOR="Blue"]
    Quote Originally Posted by linjie View Post
    thanks 2006. that's exactly the conundrum I'm talking about. However, Chinese students would be perplexed and dissatisfied to be given this optional scenario; they want (and so I need) definitive answers based on grammatical correctness and textbook authority! But it's not that simple. Language is often a bit messy, and sometimes there is more than one acceptable way to say something.


    I'm inclined to the 'are' view - ie, that there's no particular imperative to match the tenses. I agree, but you read that several native speakers chose "were", largely because backshifting is commonly used. And that is even though it is admitted that backshifting can be ambiguous and/or illogical.

    can you put a tense label on the 'he TOLD me you ARE a doctor' unmatched tense option?

    You can call it mixed tenses.

    So you can explain to your students that both of the "afraid of spiders" sentences are correct, for the reasons given. You can defend your preference for "is afraid", even though "was afraid" is widely used and widely considered correct too.
    2006

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    #6

    Re: past and present tenses - which one is this?

    So you can explain to your students that both of the "afraid of spiders" sentences are correct, for the reasons given. You can defend your preference for "is afraid", even though "was afraid" is widely used and widely considered correct too.
    But
    linjie is saying he needs one authoritative answer, and that he cannot explain to his students that they have a choice. Perhaps in Canada or Australia one could "defend one's preference". But even having a preference, let alone trying to defend it, might not come easily at all to Chinese students.

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    #7

    Re: past and present tenses - which one is this?

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post


    But
    linjie is saying he needs one authoritative answer, and that he cannot explain to his students that they have a choice. Perhaps in Canada or Australia one could "defend one's preference". But even having a preference, let alone trying to defend it, might not come easily at all to Chinese students.
    I agree, he should accept that "she said she was afraid of spiders" is correct, it is. He might also teach that with "to say" in the present tense "is" is correct; "she says she is".

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    #8

    Re: past and present tenses - which one is this?

    I would concur. 'Was' is correct here according to standard rules of tense concord, and present tense 'is' is an informally tolerated substitute: not the other way around! 'Was' does not indicate a fear limited to the relative past, which would be conveyed by the past perfect, e.g.

    He said that he had been afraid of spiders in his youth (but no longer was).

    While shifted tenses may, at worst, sound vaguely formal, unshifted tenses may, in certain cases generally difficult for the non-native to determine, be unacceptable, e.g.

    *I didn't know he's so ill.

    Cf. correctly shifted

    I didn't know he was so ill.

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    #9

    Re: past and present tenses - which one is this?

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post

    But linjie is saying he needs one authoritative answer, and that he cannot explain to his students that they have a choice. Perhaps in Canada or Australia one could "defend one's preference". But even having a preference, let alone trying to defend it, might not come easily at all to Chinese students.
    It must be frustrating to teach in such a rigid unrealistic system.

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    #10

    Re: past and present tenses - which one is this?

    Quote Originally Posted by philo2009 View Post
    I would concur. 'Was' is correct here according to standard rules of tense concord, and present tense 'is' is an informally tolerated substitute: not the other way around! 'Was' does not indicate a fear limited to the relative past, which would be conveyed by the past perfect, e.g.

    He said that he had been afraid of spiders in his youth (but no longer was). But "was" and "had been" are still both past tenses. And "in his youth" gives it away anyway.

    While shifted tenses may, at worst, sound vaguely formal, unshifted tenses may, in certain cases generally difficult for the non-native to determine, be unacceptable, e.g. I would think the opposite could be true in many cases.

    *I didn't know he's so ill.

    Cf. correctly shifted

    I didn't know he was so ill. ambiguous
    2006

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