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    #1

    inconsistent tense with indirect speech-- common mistake?

    It seems that even native speakers may say something like "I told him that I don't know", "I said I'm not feeling well", or "I said I won't be able to finish today". Is this true?


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    #2

    Re: inconsistent tense with indirect speech-- common mistake?

    Quote Originally Posted by dihen
    It seems that even native speakers may say something like "I told him that I don't know", "I said I'm not feeling well", or "I said I won't be able to finish today". Is this true?
    Very true. I often do it myself. The reason is that we mentally prepend the "I told" or the "I said" as an afterthought onto what we were thinking about, rather than constructing the sentence from scratch. So we "forget" to go back and amend the tense. In a sense, it is like quoting what is in your head. For example, "I said '<X>'", where <X> is taken as a whole unit.

    This is so prevalent in modern English today that "I said I'm not feeling well" sounds almost more natural than "I said I wasn't feeling well". I suspect in a few generations it will become the "correct" form.

  1. rewboss's Avatar

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    #3

    Re: inconsistent tense with indirect speech-- common mistake?

    Yes, it often happens like that, although there is some logic:

    "I told him that I don't know" ... and I still don't know
    "I told him that I didn't know" ... but I have since found out

    "I said I'm not feeling well" ... and I still don't feel well
    "I said I wasn't feeling well" ... but I was lying

    "I said I won't be able to finish today" ... and it still looks as if I won't finish today.
    "I said I wouldn't be able to finish today" ... but I was wrong.

    Although you should be aware that many native speakers don't follow traditional grammar rules exactly.

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    #4

    Re: inconsistent tense with indirect speech-- common mistake?

    Quote Originally Posted by dihen /on 06-Mar-2006
    Quote Originally Posted by rewboss
    Yes, it often happens like that, although there is some logic:

    "I told him that I don't know" ... and I still don't know
    "I told him that I didn't know" ... but I have since found out

    "I said I'm not feeling well" ... and I still don't feel well
    "I said I wasn't feeling well" ... but I was lying

    "I said I won't be able to finish today" ... and it still looks as if I won't finish today.
    "I said I wouldn't be able to finish today" ... but I was wrong.

    Although you should be aware that many native speakers don't follow traditional grammar rules exactly.
    Can it really be an exception to the rule if what is mentioned is still the same and hasn't changed yet? If it is, then something like "He said that he father is a teacher" would be correct because "his father is still a teacher".
    Please answer me.

  2. Casiopea's Avatar

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    #5

    Re: inconsistent tense with indirect speech-- common mistake?

    Quote Originally Posted by dihen
    It seems that even native speakers may say something like "I told him that I don't know", "I said I'm not feeling well", or "I said I won't be able to finish today". Is this true?
    Firstly, they're not 'mistakes', they're errors, according to Standard grammatical usage. Secondly, as you note, speakers "say", so how does one determine whether these two are errors, if when spoken they sound like direct speech?

    I said I'm not feeling well.
    I said I won't be able to finish today.

    Third, speakers know there's a difference between, say,

    I told him (that) I don't know.
    I told him (that) I didn't know.

    Lastly, it isn't an exception to the Standard rule; It's a rule that Standard usage doesn't accept, yet a rule, nonetheless, that speakers use, not mistakenly, but with meaning.

    Max: Sam's father is a painter.
    Pat: He said his father was a teacher.
    <enter Sam>
    Sam: He's a teacher.
    <exit Sam>
    Pat: See! He said that his father is a teacher. <emphatic>

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    #6

    Re: inconsistent tense with indirect speech-- common mistake?

    I had never known that there is such rule. If I heard "He said his father was a teacher." without a context, I would possibly interpret it as "his father used to be a teacher" at first. Can this happen to a native speaker?
    Last edited by dihen; 11-May-2006 at 10:10.

  3. Casiopea's Avatar

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    #7

    Re: inconsistent tense with indirect speech-- common mistake?

    Yes. It's ambiguous, isn't it? And ... possibly the reason speakers tend to use the simple present: it serves to disambiguate.

    Nice question, dihen.

  4. #8

    Re: inconsistent tense with indirect speech-- common mistake?

    I want to ask a very similar question but concerning conditionals.
    I noticed this form, specifically in spoken English and used mostly among Americans:

    If I was capable of studying so consequently, I would be done with my exams by now.
    If I was you, my dear, I wouldn't refuse such a marriage proposal.

    I was thought it shoud be "were"!

    Please clarify.
    Ewelina

  5. Casiopea's Avatar

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    #9

    Re: inconsistent tense with indirect speech-- common mistake?

    Ewelina, your question is not related to indirect speech, which is the topic of this particular thread. Please start a new thread if you have further questions regarding was vs. were.

    Indicative: If ... was <a degree of fact or actuality>
    Subjunctive: If ... were <non-factual>

    The Indicative and the Subjunctive
    Read more here: http://www.bartleby.com/68/30/3230/html

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    #10

    Re: inconsistent tense with indirect speech-- common mistake?

    Is it correct to not shift the tense if I use the present perfect?
    `
    "I have just heard that they are going to Paris this summer."
    "He has told me that they are going to Paris this summer."
    "I've already said I don't know."

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