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    #1

    Sequence of tenses (#2)

    Dear professional grammar teachers,

    Please, please tell me which of the following tenses (present or past) I should use in formal writing in English. I have been checking many grammar articles about "sequence of tenses (reported speech)" though, I am still confused somehow because I often see many articles in English not following the sequence of tenses. In my understanding, I believe that I should keep the verb of the subordinate clause "present"
    1) when the subordinate clause is talking about a general truth and
    2) when the fact stated in the subordinate clause is still in progress (continuing).

    Examples:
    A) He said that he will continue the research as soon as he returns.
    B) He said that he would continue the research as soon as he returned.

    In the above B), it follows the sequence of tenses. However, in A), it is not, and I sometimes see this kind of sentence in newspaper articles.

    Please tell me which of the sentences (case "A" or "B") native speakers would recommend me to use.

  1. Casiopea's Avatar

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    #2

    Re: Sequence of tenses (#2)

    Click here: Reporting Speech: When verbs don't follow the rules.

    Let us know if you have additional questions.

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    #3

    Re: Sequence of tenses (#2)

    Thank you for your reference.
    It was very informative and helpful for me to understand the use of the sequence of tenses. However, I have one question for you: In that website, it says "Also, a sentence in direct speech in a present or future tense can remain the same if what is said is still true or relevant. " Does this mean that the sentence could either follow or not follow the rules of the sequence of tenses? In other words, whichever you say can be correct, anyway?
    If so, which is better for me to use in writing and also in speaking, in general? Please give me advice from the point of view of the native speakers.

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    #4

    Re: Sequence of tenses (#2)

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz View Post
    In that website, it says "Also, a sentence in direct speech in a present or future tense can remain the same if what is said is still true or relevant."
    I believe that accounts nicely for your A) example.

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz
    Does this mean that the sentence could either follow or not follow the rules of the sequence of tenses? In other words, whichever you say can be correct, anyway?
    Yes and no. It depends on the situation you're in; e.g., if it's an exam question on reported speech you might want to consider following the rules you learned in class.

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz
    If so, which is better for me to use in writing and also in speaking, in general? Please give me advice from the point of view of the native speakers.
    Use what you know, the rules as well as their exceptions. Just make sure you know how to use the exceptions correctly. The website I gave you is a start.

    All the best.


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    #5

    Re: Sequence of tenses (#2)

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz View Post
    Dear professional grammar teachers,
    Please, please tell me which of the following tenses (present or past) I should use in formal writing in English. I have been checking many grammar articles about "sequence of tenses (reported speech)" though, I am still confused somehow because I often see many articles in English not following the sequence of tenses. In my understanding, I believe that I should keep the verb of the subordinate clause "present"
    1) when the subordinate clause is talking about a general truth and
    2) when the fact stated in the subordinate clause is still in progress (continuing).
    Examples:
    A) He said that he will continue the research as soon as he returns.
    B) He said that he would continue the research as soon as he returned.
    In the above B), it follows the sequence of tenses. However, in A), it is not, and I sometimes see this kind of sentence in newspaper articles.
    Please tell me which of the sentences (case "A" or "B") native speakers would recommend me to use.

    A site that starts out with an inaccurate definition isn't much of a site, Casi.

    Definition

    Reported speech is often also called indirect speech. When we use reported speech, we are usually talking about the past (because obviously the person who spoke originally spoke in the past). The verbs therefore usually have to be in the past too. For example:

    "I'm going to the cinema".
    He said he was going to the cinema.
    We are NOT usually talking about the past when we use reported speech. That too, is one of the old canards. Often the only thing that is finished is the actual saying and these reporting verbs are marked with a true past tense, eg. 'said' as in "She said".

    Verbs that are used in the indirect reporting portion of these sentences are not past tense verbs, they are past tense FORM verbs. This is an important distinction. The past tense FORM tells the listener that the speaker is giving an approximation of the speech rather than a direct quotation.

    We know that these verbs do NOT represent a past time/tense situation because they can't describe a past tense/time situation. Let's use Gorikaz's examples.

    A) He said that he will continue the research as soon as he returns.
    B) He said that he would continue the research as soon as he returned.


    Now in B, 'would' is said to be a past tense, matching the sequence of tenses rule. [There is no such rule in English; there are certain patterns that are followed sometimes to effect certain language meanings not having to do with tense]

    Is 'would' really the past tense it's purported to be.

    A: I'll continue the resarch as soon as I return.

    B: He said that he would continue the research as soon as he returned.

    [Six months later, he returns and B wants to remark on the statement made 6 months prior]

    B1: *He would return to work just as he said he would.* [* denotes ungrammatical for the situation]

    B2: He returned to work, just as he said he would.

    ================

    A: "I'm going to the cinema".

    B reports what A said: He said he was going to the cinema.

    [the next day]

    Can A say,

    A: I was going to the cinema,

    to described "going to the cinema". Of course not. In order to do that, A would say something like,

    A: I went to the cinema.
    Last edited by riverkid; 10-Mar-2007 at 23:07.

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    #6

    Re: Sequence of tenses (#2)

    Thank you for discussing the matters I am concerned about.
    Well, to tell you the truth, I am still a bit confused though, I guess that there is nothing wrong even if I follow the rules of the sequence of tenses when the fact stated in the subordinate clauses still hold the truth (=continuing situation) at the time of the speech. Therefore, for instance, I could say,
    "He announed that he was going to marry next month"
    instead of saying "He announced that he is going to marry next month."

    However, according to some English grammar books/dictionalies, they mention that "when the fact in subordinate clauses still holds the truth at the time of the speech, the verbs in the subordinate clauses can remain as present tenses." In other words, they list it as one of the exceptions where sequences of tenses do/may not apply. (On the other hand, some grammar books/dictionalies do not mention this at all, too.)

    Hmmm, ???
    I am still confused...

    In formal writing, is there anything wrong if I say "He announed that he was going to marry next month"? Also, can I say like this in daily speaking as well? Do I have a choice on whether to use the sequence of tenses when the fact in subordinate clauses still holds the truth at the time of the speech (both in writing and speaking)?

    Please help me out!


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    #7

    Re: Sequence of tenses (#2)

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz View Post
    Thank you for discussing the matters I am concerned about.
    Well, to tell you the truth, I am still a bit confused though, I guess that there is nothing wrong even if I follow the rules of the sequence of tenses when the fact stated in the subordinate clauses still hold the truth (=continuing situation) at the time of the speech. Therefore, for instance, I could say,
    "He announed that he was going to marry next month"
    instead of saying "He announced that he is going to marry next month."
    However, according to some English grammar books/dictionalies, they mention that "when the fact in subordinate clauses still holds the truth at the time of the speech, the verbs in the subordinate clauses can remain as present tenses." In other words, they list it as one of the exceptions where sequences of tenses do/may not apply. (On the other hand, some grammar books/dictionalies do not mention this at all, too.)
    Hmmm, ???
    I am still confused...
    In formal writing, is there anything wrong if I say "He announed that he was going to marry next month"? Also, can I say like this in daily speaking as well? Do I have a choice on whether to use the sequence of tenses when the fact in subordinate clauses still holds the truth at the time of the speech (both in writing and speaking)?
    Please help me out!
    Of course there's nothing wrong with using a past tense FORM, Gorikaz because that's how we often report speech, in writing as well as in speech, even when the clauses still hold true at the time of speaking, which is often.

    You could probbably do it in this fashion your own English speaking life and you'd be fine. The only thing you'd miss is, in your own speaking, one of the nuances of language.

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    #8

    Re: Sequence of tenses (#2)

    Thank you for clarifying the matter.
    Yes, what you say--"the only thing you would miss is, in your own speaking, one of the nuances of language"--is exactly what I always feel. However, since you as a native speaker insists that there is nothing wrong to use a past tense form both in writing and speaking when the verb in the main clause is a past tense, I would probably use it in this way.

    By the way, is this rule applied to the following cases as well? I just wondered...

    1) At your age, I did not study so hard as you do.
    2) Japan was more exciting place than it is today.

    In the above 1) and 2) cases, is there anything wrong if I change "do" to "did" and "is" to "was," following the rules of the sequence of tense? As you said before, it is a matter related to the nuances of language though...

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    #9

    Re: Sequence of tenses (#2)

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz View Post
    ...the fact stated in the subordinate clauses still hold the truth (=continuing situation) at the time of the speech.../...I could say, "He announed that he was going to marry next month" instead of saying "He announced that he is going to marry next month."
    Yes and no. Learning English at the BBC World Service offers this explanation and example. If the subordinate clause
    "relates to a point in time which is still in the future even when the original speech is reported", then no tense change is also possible.

    • They explained that they're getting married on 4 July and have bought a house in Manchester.
    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz
    However, according to some English grammar books/dictionalies, they mention that "when the fact in subordinate clauses still holds the truth at the time of the speech, the verbs in the subordinate clauses can remain as present tenses."
    Right. For example,

    Exceptions:
    • If the reported sentence deals with a fact or general truth, the present tense is (can be) retained. She said that the moon causes the tides.
    • If the speaker reports something immediately or soon after it was said, the noun clause verb often remains as spoken.
      A: What did the conductor say?
      B: He said that the next stop is Northgate.
    • If will is the modal in the reported utterance and expresses future time, and if the situation described in the quote still holds true at the time of the indirect report, the will may not be changed to would even though the reporting verb is in the past tense:
      Mr. Arden said that a volcanic eruption will occur next year.

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz
    some grammar books/dictionalies do not mention this at all
    Which tells us the reported speech is in a state of flux at the moment, with different groups of speakers at different points on the continuum of change. There's even a blog about it here, Reported Speech; a tense issue, with 'tense' meaning stressful. According to the author, "some people accept" the following tendency as standard, whereas "others resist it":
    "tendency to retain the original tense when the action reported is known to still occur, or to have not yet occurred, at the time of reporting:


    He said the sun rises in the east;

    she said the national debt will be eliminated in 2005."

    Moreover, there are academic papers on the topic; e.g., Constraints on tense choice in reported speech:
    In reported speech, a that-clause depending on a reporting verb in the past tense can under certain conditions use the present tense instead of the past tense: He said that his name was/is John. The conditions in question have often been discussed in the literature (see especially Riddle 1978). The present article concentrates on the factors that hamper or prevent the use of the present tense. Some of these have to do with the fact that a reporting verb creates an intensional domain, others are related to the speaker's choice of 'temporal focus'. All in all, the factors appear to be numerous and of many different types: they have to do with syntax, semantics, pragmatics, communication structure and context. The theoretical relevance of these findings is that they cast doubt on the traditional 'sequence of tense' analysis of reported speech and corroborate the analysis in terms of 'temporal domains' proposed in Declerck (1991).
    Some people accept the change, others do not. Reported speech is in a state of flux.

    Here is a list of sources that talk about the exceptions:

    Noun Clauses/Reported Speech (Indirect Speech)
    Additional Information and Exceptions in Reported Speech
    Learning English | BBC World Service
    Reported speech - English Grammar

    I'm sure there are more. I just haven't had time to find them all for you.

    Quote Originally Posted by gorikaz
    In formal writing, is there anything wrong if I say "He announed that he was going to marry next month"?
    It depends on the context. Moreover, it appears to follow the backshift rule;i.e., if the main verb is in the past, then the reported verb is backshifted. Thus: is going => was going; however, and here's one of the exceptions, "no tense change is also possible", especially if the subordinate clause "relates to a point in time which is still in the future even when the original speech is reported (BBC World Service)"; e.g., They explained they're getting married on July 4th; he announced he's going to marry next month.

    In short, there are the rules and there are the exceptions to the rule. Some people accept them as standard, whereas others resist them. Now, the choice is up to you. You have to decide.

    Be brave.

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    #10

    Re: Sequence of tenses (#2)

    Thank you for your informative information and great details on this issue.
    Thanks to all your help (those who gave me different comments and advice on this issue), I now believe that I will be able to have more confidence in reading/writing/speaking English. I see, the decision is up to me, in the end, though in general, it might be safer for someone like me (who is not an English native speaker) to follow the rules of the sequence of tenses if possible (particularly in an English exam which requires me to follow the rules of the sequence of tenses). Well, however I know that, even in an exam, I should be able to keep the present tense though, in a case like the one being discussed in my thread.

    Once again, I would like to express my appreciation to all the people who participated in this thread.

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