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  1. #1
    henryh is offline Junior Member
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    Default Sequence of tenses

    Hello everyone,

    My problem today is that I don't seem to fully understand when I am supposed to "backshift" the tense.

    I understand this:
    He said he was in a bad mood at the party. (The party is over, it refers to the past, that's why I use '... was in a bad mood.'

    Or this:

    He thought I would phone him, but I didn't. (It refers to the past that's why I used future in the past.)


    But what happens if the thing I'm referring to is still future at the time of speaking.

    Eg: He said his Mum will be 50 on 15 December. (Today is 3 Dec)
    Am I supposed to say?:

    'He said his Mum would be 50 on 15 December.' or it is okay-ish the way I expressed???

    Or: Tomorrow is Tuesday. He said tomorrow is / was / would be Tuesday???
    Or: My colleague tells me that there will be no one waiting for me at the airport when I arrive tomorrow. I react immediately.
    What do I say?

    I thought someone will / would be waiting for me when I arrive tomorrow.

    Or: On Wednesday, there will be a match. Someone tells me it starts at 8:00pm. I'm all: 'I thought it starts / started / would start at 9:00'???

    So, the question is: Do I ALWAYS have to backshift the tense?
    Or it is only important when I talk about something that happened in the past? Oh, I'm confused. Please help.

    Thank you very much.
    Bye

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Sequence of tenses

    I know, it's horrible, isn't it?'

    For the sentence, 'He said his Mum will be 50 on 15 December.', this would be the choice of most L1 speakers.

    But for the second example you give, even though in the context 'tomorrow' hasn't yet happened, most native speakers would say
    'I thought someone would be waiting for me when I arrive tomorrow.'

    For your other example, 'I thought it started / was going to start at 9:00' would be the preferred choice.

    It's an area that native speakers get completely tied up in knots about and you hear so many grammatical 'errors' when people are reporting speech.

    Have you got any good self-study books for this grammar area? Michael Vince's books are quite thorough and give so much practice that you'll develop a feel for what sounds natural.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Sequence of tenses

    Quote Originally Posted by Clare James View Post
    But for the second example you give, even though in the context 'tomorrow' hasn't yet happened, most native speakers would say
    'I thought someone would be waiting for me when I arrive tomorrow.'
    The reason is this: although "tomorrow" is in the future, "thought" is in the past. And the fact that "thought" is in the past means, in effect, that I don't think this any more.

    The past tense is not used just to indicate the past. Here, it is used to indicate an unreal situation, something that will not actually happen.

    Similarly:

    If I had a hammer, I would hammer in the morning.

    I don't have a hammer, so therefore I will not hammer in the morning. (Or at any other time.)

    Consider:

    "He told me his mum will be 50 on 15 December." She will be 50 on that date -- there's no question about that.

    "I thought she would be 55 on 15 December." In the past, this is what I thought. But now I am not so sure.

  4. #4
    henryh is offline Junior Member
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    Default Re: Sequence of tenses

    Thank you both for your explanations. It's getting clear. You've been a great help. I do appreciate it. Bye.

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