I already knew that if people don't [reported speech] [backshift]

JJXR

Senior Member
Russian
Hello to all,

Thanks for reviewing my post.


Sample context:

When we spoke yesterday, I already knew that if people don't speak any of the languages that he is learning, then he won't talk to them.

Question:

The underlined part in the sample context is not the case of an eternal truth. In the case of an eternal truth backshift of tenses is not needed. For example, 'The teacher said that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius.' But still the underlined conditional sentence is his approach to learning a language, i.e. a rule, therefore the backshift of don't, is and won't to didn't, was and wouldn't, respectively, doesn't seem necessary. Is this correct?


Thanks a lot for any comments, corrections or suggestions!

Regards,
JJXR
 
Last edited:
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    When we spoke yesterday, I already knew that if people don't speak any of the languages that he is learning, then he won't talk to them. / When we spoke yesterday, I already knew that if people didn't speak any of the languages that he was learning, then he wouldn't talk to them.

    You're right. Either of these ways of saying it is valid. What the speaker/writer already knew was valid yesterday (so version 2 is correct), but is still valid now (so version 1 is also correct). In other words, this is his normal, ongoing behaviour, and there's nothing to suggest that it has changed since the statement was made.

    A couple of comments, though:
    • In your other example, "boils" could be backshifted to "boiled" perfectly correctly. In fact, it reads better that way.
    • Surely this guy had no option but to speak only to those who knew at least one of the same languages as he knew. Wouldn't he have trouble communicating with anyone else?! :D
     
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