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.
Student or Learner
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?
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."The phenomenon Mike is taking about hasn't reached Australia yet,
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, LongmanI 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.and seems to be unnecessarily confusing.
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 02:46. Reason: Add "can" backshift
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