he thought that once one <has><had> finished working, they <can><could>

JJXR

Senior Member
Russian
Hello to all,

Thanks for reading my post.


Context:

John is a new employee at a company called XXX. Yesterday, he finished working and left the office without turning his computer off. Today, Bob, who's John's and Bill's boss, says to Bill: "Why didn't John turn the computer off before leaving the office?" Bill replies to Bob with one of the sentences below.

Sample sentences:

1. Perhaps, he thought that once one has finished working, they can just lock the computer, rather than turning it off. I'll tell him today that we must turn our computers off before leaving the office.

2. Perhaps, he thought that once one had finished working, they could just lock the computer, rather than turning it off. I'll tell him today that we must turn our computers off before leaving the office.

Question:

Are both sentences acceptable in the context given? I'm wondering about the tenses in bold.


Thanks a lot for any comments, corrections or suggestions!

Regards,
JJXR
 
  • JJXR

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thanks for your responses, reno33 and Glasguensis.
    1. Perhaps, he thought that once one has finished working, they can just lock the computer, rather than turning it off. I'll tell him today that we must turn our computers off before leaving the office.
    This sentence is the one to use (i.e. the tenses do not need to be backshifted) because the implication is as follows:

    Perhaps, he thought and still thinks that once one has finished working, they can just lock the computer, rather than turning it off. I'll tell him today that we must turn our computers off before leaving the office.

    If Bill had said something like the sentence below instead, then the tenses would have had to be backshifted:

    I've already told John that we must turn our computers off before leaving the office. Perhaps, he thought that once one had finished working, they could just lock the computer, rather than turning it off.

    In this case, the implication is that John thought but no longer thinks that once one has finished working, they can just lock the computer, rather than turning it off.

    Is this correct?
     

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    No. The part which starts “once one...” expresses a belief which he may have had about the world in general, and does not have to be backshifted. Whether he still believes it or not makes no difference.
     

    JJXR

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thanks for the response, Glasguensis.

    If John is now dead, is it still correct not to backshift:

    Unfortunately, John died in a car crash yesterday. Perhaps, he thought that once one has finished working, they can just lock the computer, rather than turning it off.

    Would it be correct to backshift:

    Unfortunately, John died in a car crash yesterday. Perhaps, he thought that once one had finished working, they could just lock the computer, rather than turning it off.
     

    Glasguensis

    Signal Modulation
    English - Scotland
    The biggest problem here is that your sentence is appalling no matter what tense you use. The temptation to backshift arises from the fact that we are talking about an explanation for what John actually did but it is phrased as a general truth. If I correct your sentence it should be “once one has finished working one can lock the computer”. This works as is or it can be backshifted to “once one had finished working one could lock the computer”. Both can be used regardless of the current circumstances of John and his beliefs.
     
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