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    #1

    backshifting of tenses

    1. " Our teacher told us about Justin. He is my classmate. My teacher said that his parents are/were separated"


    Which tense should I use. The present situation is his parents are separated, but I'm telling story, should I keep it all in past?"

    thanks,
    another example..

    *"We watched a movie last night, the title of the movie is/was Shrek"


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    #2

    Re: backshifting of tenses

    it is actually ambiguous but personally I would use a past tense verb in both cases.

    ...were seperated.
    ...was Shrek.

    Using a present tense verb would not be wrong, as long as the statements are still true. However since you are telling a story, and the story happened a while ago, then you only know that the details of the story were true at the time that the story happened (you know it was true in the past. )

    For instance, Justin's parents may have gotten back together!

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    #3

    Re: backshifting of tenses

    no...they are still separated...so what d'yu think?

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    #4

    Re: backshifting of tenses

    "He told us he was going away next week."

    To many people learning English, this is a very confusing sentence. If he is going away next week, how can you use the the simple past form was?

    When the verb of the main clause of a sentence is in the past tense (told), many English speakers tend to put verbs from other clauses (relative, dependent, subordinate, etc.) in the same sentence into the past tense also. Most English speakers do not perceive this as an error, and it rarely, if ever, causes confusion.

  1. Casiopea's Avatar

    • Join Date: Sep 2003
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    #5

    Re: backshifting of tenses

    Quote Originally Posted by chum View Post
    no...they are still separated...so what d'yu think?
    Ex: My teacher said that his parents are separated.
    Ex: My teacher said that his parents were separated 2 months ago.

    Note:
    • If the reporting verb (the main verb of the sentences, e.g., said, is in the past, the verb in the noun clause will usually be in a past form.
    • If the reporting verb is simple present, present perfect, or future, the noun clause verb is not changed.
    She says, "I wash my hair every day."
    She says she washes her hair every day.
    She has said, "I wash my hair every day."
    She has said that she washes her hair every day.
    She will say, "I wash my hair every day."
    She will say that she washes her hair every day.

    *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.
    Source

    ============
    For advanced members
    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. 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.

    In Studia linguistica Blackwell, Oxford, ROYAUME-UNI 1996, vol. 50, no3, pp. 283-301 (22 ref.)

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