back shifting of tenses

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ortonn

Banned
India - English
Consider the example
"My name is Ricky."
He said his name is Ricky. (Tense is not back shifted because his name is and will always be Ricky)

Ricky : "I live in Paris."
Ricky said that he lives in Paris. (Tense is not back shifted because he still lives in Paris.)

For these two above sentences it is possible to not back shift the tense because the reporting words are still true at the time of reporting, but what will you say about the sentences ?
He asked what his name is.
He asked where he lives
Here how do you justify for not back shifting the tenses ?
 
  • DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I would say them as:
    He asked what his name was.
    He asked where he lived.
    (This assumes that the "he" is two different people, by the way).;)

    In each case, the first "he" (the speaker) wanted to know who the second "he" was and where he lived at the time he asked. The person may have changed his name and/or moved between then and now: there's no way of telling from those sentences as they stand.
     

    ortonn

    Banned
    India - English
    John to Sam : "Where do you live ?"
    An hour later, Nash to Sam : "What did John ask ?"
    Sam replies : John asked where I live. ( Indirect speech )

    Knowing the fact that Sam has not changed his living place, can "live" be used in reported speech ?
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    It sounds wrong to me and I would backshift it to lived. Sam replies : "John asked [me] where I lived." ( Indirect speech )

    But I suspect there is an element of personal choice there and it may work as live for other people.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Ortonn, the idea of all writing and speech is to communicate accurately. reported speech does not have to be a direct conversion of direct speech:

    John to Sam : "Where do you live ?"
    An hour later, Nash to Sam : "What did John ask ?"
    Sam replies : John asked where I was living at the moment. ( Indirect speech )

    There is nothing amazing about this change in words so as to achieve accurate meaning, especially where time phrases are concerned:

    John: What are you doing tomorrow?
    Sam: I'm visiting my sister.
    [A week later]
    Nash: "What did John say?"
    Sam: "He asked what I was doing the following day."
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Consider the example
    "My name is Ricky."
    He said his name is Ricky. (Tense is not back shifted because his name is and will always be Ricky)

    Ricky : "I live in Paris."
    Ricky said that he lives in Paris. (Tense is not back shifted because he still lives in Paris.)

    For these two above sentences it is possible to not back shift the tense because the reporting words are still true at the time of reporting, but what will you say about the sentences ?
    He asked what his name is.
    He asked where he lives
    Here how do you justify for not back shifting the tenses ?
    Hello Ortonn,

    If the fact being reported remains true, you can backshift, or you can omit to do so, keeping the present tense in the reported speech.

    You may prefer not to backshift if you wish to stress the present or, maybe, urgent - he said the fire engine is on its way - nature of the fact.

    It's a matter of choice, and of what you wish to stress.

    Donny is giving you excellent advice, of course.

    We've been telling you this for two months now.
     

    ortonn

    Banned
    India - English
    You see, If the sentence was - He said that he lives in London.
    Here I know it is completely natural to not back shift the tense if he still lives in London.

    But what if the sentence is "John asked me where I live." & "John asked what my name is." Here whats the reason for not back shifting the tenses ?

    Awaiting your reply.
     

    ortonn

    Banned
    India - English
    Name , place where a person lives is something permanent. Apparently I didn't imply that 'he has changed his name'.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Name , place where a person lives is something permanent. Apparently I didn't imply that 'he has changed his name'.
    We told you that if the fact remained still true, you didn't necessarily have to backshift.

    Now you ask us why one doesn't backshift when reporting someone's name, yet you admit that the name remains the same.

    I don't know why you don't apply the suggestions we've been making to you.
     

    ortonn

    Banned
    India - English
    Oh I see now.
    He said that he lives in London.
    He asked me where I live.

    So in both these sentences tenses are not back shifted because he still lives in London at the time of reporting.


    Another example - He asked if I am smart.
    So here also it is correct to not back shift the tense if I still feel that I'm smart.

    So is that what you saying ?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Ortonn, here's my advice.

    Always backshift.

    You'll never be wrong. And you'll save yourself a lot of worry.
     

    ortonn

    Banned
    India - English
    I strictly adhere to back shift the tense since its always correct. But for an instance, can one say - He asked if I am smart. under the condition that I'm still smart at the time of reporting ?
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I agree, backshifting is always okay. Using the present tense might be okay in some circumstances, but it is not necessary.
     

    ortonn

    Banned
    India - English
    I agree, backshifting is always okay. Using the present tense might be okay in some circumstances, but it is not necessary.
    For an instance, can one say - "He asked me if I am smart." under the condition that I'm still smart at the time of reporting ?
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I strictly adhere to back shift the tense since its always correct. But for an instance, can one say - He asked if I am smart. under the condition that I'm still smart at the time of reporting ?
    That's an extremely unlikely sentence.

    I repeat my advice: Always backshift. You'll never be wrong.
     

    kalamazoo

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I think the point is that the backshift is just grammatical. We don't use it to indicate that a condition was temporary.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    My view is that being smart is something semi-permanent, like where one lives.

    Age has withered me a little and custom staled my infinite variety, but I think I'm not a great deal less smart than I used to be, particularly when sober.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    Ortonn, here's my advice.

    Always backshift.

    You'll never be wrong. And you'll save yourself a lot of worry.
    I totally agree!! :thumbsup:

    All this agonizing over whether something is still true now or not is unnecessary. If you stick to backshifting there isn't a problem.

    And I have to say that "He asked me if I am smart." sounds positively stilted to me.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    But it doesn't explain to Ortonn why people sometimes don't backshift, which is what he was, or is, asking.
    It sounds to me, from this thread anyway, as if he may have latched on to the exceptions rather than the general "rule". In the very first examples he gave about Ricky living in Paris I would have backshifted both of those. I accept there is an option not to, but like a lot of these things that's as much personal preference as anything else. Which is small consolation for learners looking for black-and-white answers to everything.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    But it doesn't explain to Ortonn why people sometimes don't backshift, which is what he was, or is, asking.
    People sometimes don't backshift when the statement being made is either (a) universally true or (b) still true at the time of speaking - especially when the reporter is himself/herself vouching for the truth of the statement.

    My advice to ortonn still stands. Ortonn, you will sometimes come across non-backshifted reported speech. Just accept that fact, and don't agonise over it.
     

    ortonn

    Banned
    India - English
    My only query is -
    In the sentence - He said that he lives in London.
    Here I feel it is completely natural to not back shift the tense if he still lives in London.

    But I have a doubt regarding the sentence "John asked me where I live." So in this sentence, is it possible to use present tense if I still live in same place.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    My only query is -
    In the sentence - He said that he lives in London.
    Here I feel it is completely natural to not back shift the tense if he still lives in London.

    But I have a doubt regarding the sentence "John asked me where I live." So in this sentence, is it possible to use present tense if I still live in same place.
    It's possible not to backshift in both those sentences. "Completely natural"? Maybe ~ maybe not.

    My advice still stands: Backshift.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    And, to repeat what many others have said, it is possible but not necessarily advisable. If you say "John asked me where I lived" it does not automatically imply that you no longer live there. For that meaning I would expect "John asked me where I used to live".

    So... if you always backshift you will not have a problem, but it is possible not to backshift under some circumstances.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    It's probably because they have never noticed the rule or they ignore it. The essence of speaking is to convey meaning accurately and, "He says he lives over there." and "He said he lives over there." do this in a way that, because of possible ambiguity, "He says he lived over there." and "He said he lived over there." does not.

    I notice that there is a tendency to have the tenses all verbs (that refer to contemporaneous events) to coincide, so the "He said" implies that there will be a past tense that follows, whereas "He says" does not but uses the present to indicate the past.
     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Amidst all this talk of it being permissible to omit to backshift, there hasn't been much explanation of the difference between the backshifted and the unbackshifted version.

    I feel someone ought to mention that the backshifted version can introduce a plaintive note of worry or of mounting disbelief: he said that the fire engine was on its way.
     
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    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I feel someone ought to mention that the backshifted version can introduce a plaintive note of worry or of mounting disbelief: he said that the fire engine was on its way.
    I don't think it necessarily does, though. I can imagine a conversation which goes something like:

    A: Has anyone called the fire brigade?
    B: Yes, the operator said a fire engine was on its way and would be here in a couple of minutes.
    A: Hang on a second .... Oh yes. I can hear the siren now.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I don't think it necessarily does, though. I can imagine a conversation which goes something like:

    A: Has anyone called the fire brigade?
    B: Yes, the operator said a fire engine was on its way and would be here in a couple of minutes.
    A: Hang on a second .... Oh yes. I can hear the siren now.
    Hi Donny,

    I don't think it necessarily does either - I said it can, not that it does.

    I was building on an earlier mention of the comforting - He said it's on its way.

    I think a declining hope might be expressed (not necessarily would be expressed) by the backshift - He said it was on its way.

    I agree that the backshifted version doesn't preclude imminent arrival.

    I'm interested in possible variations of meanings between the two forms.

    If the fact is in the past anyway - he says it was on its way - there's no question of backshifting: the tense in the clause would have to be in the past - he said it was on its way. It's the potential ambiguity of this final version - is it reporting a present or a past fact? - which clearly intrigues some people.
     

    DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    I was envisaging that the operator actually said "A fire engine is on its way and will be there in a couple of minutes"

    In my sample dialogue, person B could have reported that as "the operator says a fire engine is on its way [but its's been ten minutes already and there's no sign of it]

    So I don't honestly see the issue as backshifting: it's how you convey the meaning from the context. :confused:
     

    ortonn

    Banned
    India - English
    Folks, my question concerns 'reported speech question'.
    For instance,
    Teacher to me : What music do you like ?
    Few hour later I happen to meet my friend and he asks " What did your teacher ask ?"
    I reply : Teacher asked what music I like.

    Here is it correct to not back shift the tense given the fact that I still like the same music.

    P.S : I know back shifted version would be more natural.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    [Moderator note. This thread has been closed. It is no longer discussing the specific example introduced in the first post. More importantly, it is repeating advice that has been given repeatedly in similar threads over the last six months or so. Thanks to everyone for your patient input.
    panjandrum]
     
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