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Thread: I was vs. I am

  1. #1
    moon whisperer is offline Newbie
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    Default I was vs. I am

    Which sentence is correct: (1)"He told me I was beautiful." or (2)"He told me I am beautiful."? Which grammatical tenses are used in these sentences?

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    Default Re: I was vs. I am

    Classically, the past tense has been used for reported speech, but that is changing. It was too formulaic. If the condition expressed is known to be or likely to be still true, the present tense if often used these days.

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    Default Re: I was vs. I am

    Quote Originally Posted by moon whisperer View Post
    Which sentence is correct: (1)"He told me I was beautiful." or (2)"He told me I am beautiful."? Which grammatical tenses are used in these sentences?
    I always use the past tense in this situation (reported speech). For students, it will always be right and you don't have to think about it.
    The phenomenon Mike is taking about hasn't reached Australia yet, and seems to be unnecessarily confusing.

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    Default Re: I was vs. I am

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    I always use the past tense in this situation (reported speech). For students, it will always be right and you don't have to think about it.
    The phenomenon Mike is taking about hasn't reached Australia yet, and seems to be unnecessarily confusing.
    It has reached most style guides in the US. What you call unnecessarily confusing, I call logical.

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    Default Re: I was vs. I am

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymott View Post
    I always use the past tense in this situation (reported speech). For students, it will always be right and you don't have to think about it.
    I agree that backshifting is always correct, and I always recommend that my learners backshift.
    The phenomenon Mike is taking about hasn't reached Australia yet,
    That surprises me. Henry Sweet wrote as long ago as 1900, "[...] in such a sentence as the ancients did not know that Africa ..an island, we hesitate whether to use was or is." Jespersen (1933) wrote: "[...] when the idea of a universal truth is quite obvious, the tense may be unshifted: We learnt at school that 2 and 2 is 4."

    It is true that not everybody will regard the beauty of a particular speaker as a 'universal truth' but Palmer (1974) makes no restriction: "The present tense form of the original statement can be retained even with a past tense of reporting: He said he likes chocolate. He said he's reading 'Vanity Fair'.

    It is interesting that in the earlier version of his book (1965), Palmer said that non-backshifting was 'rare'. My own suspicion (and that's all it is) is that between 1965 and 1974 Palmer realised that it was not rare; it was in fact quite common - and correct. I taught obligatory backshifting when I started in TEFL in the late 1960s, because that was what most coursebooks and student grammars at the time prescribed. Within a short time, I had realised that backshifting was not essential for 'universal truths'. By the mid 1970s, I had read enough to confirm my own belief that backshifting was not essential for any situation that was still valid at the time of reporting.

    Sweet, Henry (1900:70) The History of Language, London: Dent
    Jespersen, Otto (1933.261) Essentials of English Grammar, London: Allen & Unwin
    Palmer, F R (1974.45) The English Verb, London: Longman
    Palmer, F R
    (1965.71) A Linguistic Study of the English Verb. London, Longman
    and seems to be unnecessarily confusing.
    I don't entirely agree. Universal backshifting may appear simpler, but the fact that many native speakers, of BrE at least, do not backshift when the situation reported still holds at the time of reporting is not particularly confusing, in my opinion.
    Please do not edit your question after it has received a response. Such editing can make the response hard for others to understand.


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    Default Re: I was vs. I am

    I meant it was confusing to learners, deciding on each occasion which form is correct, when they can always backshift and be right.
    About Australia, of course we use both forms. I meant I haven't noticed any increase in the present tense usage over the last 30 years. If we are comparing it to last century, maybe it's true of here as well.
    Last edited by Raymott; 05-Jun-2013 at 01:46. Reason: Add "can" backshift

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    moon whisperer is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: I was vs. I am

    Thank you!

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    Rover_KE is offline Moderator
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    Default Re: I was vs. I am

    moon whisperer, instead of sending your thanks in a separate message, just click the Like button, please.

    The reason is that it is flagged as a new post, so we think you might have a follow-up question or something to add. Those of us with slow internet connections and/or old computers have to waste valuable time waiting for it to appear.

    Thank you.

    Rover

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