I promised that I <will / would> wash the car.

Couch Tomato

Senior Member
Russian & Dutch
1. I promised that I will wash the car.
2. I promised that I would wash the car.

I've always thought that in this sort of construction, we should use would and not will regardless of whether or not the washing of the car is still going to happen. I asked a similar question a few months ago.

In Cambridge CPE - Common mistakes at Proficiency and how to avoid them the author states that, 'We also use would to talk about a time in the future from a point in the past: They planned that they would meet at midnight.'

But, would it also be possible to use "will" instead of "would"?
No, you couldn't replace 'would' with 'will' here.
But I just came across a passage that proves otherwise:

If I tell Jane, "I promise that I will wash the car," I might be promising to wash the car. I can also tell someone else about my promising. It is most common to use the past or future tense for this, as when I say, "I promised that I will wash the car," or "I will promise to wash the car."
(Using Language: The Structure of Speech Acts - John T. Kearns)

So if we can't say 'They planned that they will meet at midnight' why can we say 'I promised that I will wash the car'? Or will the meaning change?

1. I promised that I will wash the car. (The washing of the car is going to happen in the future)
2. I promised that I would wash the car. (The washing of the car is not going to happen, I'm just telling about the whole sequence of events that happened a long time ago)

What I'm trying to express here is that the washing will take place in the future. I'm telling someone what I promised.

What do you think?

Thank you in advance.
 
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  • Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    1. I promised that I will wash the car. (The washing of the car is going to happen in the future)
    To me that is wrong and I would never say it. I don't think you can say that John T. Kearns's book proves that this structure is correct - to me it proves that John T. Kearns speaks a different form of English from the one I use. Alternative theories are that a. he was having a bad day and made a mistake, b. the typesetter made an error and the proofreader missed it, or c. the proofreader was having a bad day and "corrected" it wrongly.

    I promised that I would wash the car - the promising happened in the past.
    I promise that I will wash the car - the promising is happening now.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I was dithering over how to respond, but as I did so, AndyGC came up with an excellent response.

    The only thing proved by your reference is that authors (and editors) of supposed authorities on our language can commit grievous errors.

    Note also that the author is a psychologist/philosopher - whatever that might imply, including being out of his depth, so to speak.
     

    Couch Tomato

    Senior Member
    Russian & Dutch
    Thank you, sdgraham. A grievous error it is indeed.

    Edit. In light of posts #6 and #8, I'm taking back my words.
     
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    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    1. I promised that I will wash the car. (The washing of the car is going to happen in the future)
    I don't see the problem with this sentence in the right context.
    Yesterday, I promised, "I will wash the car." I won't have time until tomorrow. I promised that I will wash the car.
     

    Couch Tomato

    Senior Member
    Russian & Dutch
    Thank you, Myridon.

    Interesting. Is this a topic upon which there is no unanimous agreement?

    Now we have two people against and one person in favour of this sentence. I'm eager to know what other contributors think of this.
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    I agree with Myridon. There's a context thing here. The promised car-washing still has not happened; that's why the sentence is possible. Compare it to something like "I can't believe that last night I really told Diana that I'll drive her to her parents' house this weekend" or "I already said that I'll read your application by the end of the day! If you don't stop pestering me, though, I won't have time to do it."

    The author of the sentence you found is a speech-act theorist looking for a grammatical criterion to distinguish speech acts. He's pointing out that if you make a promise to Mary to wash her car you would commonly use the present tense ("Sure, Mary, I promise I'll wash your car"). But if you discuss that promise with other people you shift the tense of the verb "promise" (to "I just promised Mary that I'll wash her car, so I'd better finish up here and go do that" or "Mary seems mad at me. I know! Tomorrow when I see her I'll promise that I'll wash her car. She'll like that"). The only thing of interest to the philosopher is the tense and aspect of the verb "promise" as it moves from the "pure performative" of the first sentence to the constatives of the second and third sentences.
     

    Couch Tomato

    Senior Member
    Russian & Dutch
    Thank you, lucas-sp.

    But if you discuss that promise with other people you shift the tense of the verb "promise" (to "I just promised Mary that I'll wash her car, so I'd better finish up here and go do that" or "Mary seems mad at me. I know! Tomorrow when I see her I'll promise that I'll wash her car. She'll like that").
    I see where you're coming from. I, for one, have always assumed that one should say "I already said that I would read your application by the end of the day!'

    It's interesting to see that not all speakers make this shift, but then again it's not the first time that contributors disagree here :D.
     

    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    If we use the perfect tense and make a statement about the future, there's no doubt we can say "I've promised him I will buy him a DVD for his birthday." Indeed would sounds unnatural to me in such a sentence.

    The question is whether the same applies to the past timple: "I promised him I will buy him a DVD for his birthday."
    Again there is no doubt that some people speak or write like this, but the difference is (to my ears) that would sounds natural.

    There seems to be no rule to prevent the will future from being used here and to say that it is wrong would seem to be a rash thing to say.
    However, I don't think that will is particularly common and I must admit that I don't think I would ever say it myself.
     

    RM1(SS)

    Senior Member
    English - US (Midwest)
    I promised I would wash the car - and I did.

    I promised I will wash the car - but I haven't gotten around to it yet.
     

    Couch Tomato

    Senior Member
    Russian & Dutch
    Thank you, e2efour, Parla and RM1(SS)

    I promised I would wash the car - and I did.

    I promised I will wash the car - but I haven't gotten around to it yet.
    Is there no overlap for you? I'm quite happy with 'I promised I would wash the car, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.'
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    There's a context thing here. The promised car-washing still has not happened; that's why the sentence is possible. Compare it to something like "I can't believe that last night I really told Diana that I'll drive her to her parents' house this weekend" or "I already said that I'll read your application by the end of the day! If you don't stop pestering me, though, I won't have time to do it."
    Whereas for me those two sentences, and Myridon's suggestion, are impossible. They would be "I can't believe that last night I really told Diana that I'd drive her to her parents' house this weekend" or "I already said that I'd read your application by the end of the day!"
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Whereas for me those two sentences, and Myridon's suggestion, are impossible. They would be "I can't believe that last night I really told Diana that I'd drive her to her parents' house this weekend" or "I already said that I'd read your application by the end of the day!"
    I do agree. The sequence of tenses needs to be observed.

    We can rescue the present tense in the subordinate clause, however, by the simple device of using the present perfect for the main verb:

    'Don't worry. I have promised that I will wash the car.'
    'I have already said that I will read your application by the end of the day.'

    In this way, the present perfect tense brings the time-frame right up to the moment of speaking.
    Unlike the simple past tense, it places the past action in the present context.
     
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    Stifled

    Member
    Hebrew
    Thank you, e2efour, Parla and RM1(SS)



    Is there no overlap for you? I'm quite happy with 'I promised I would wash the car, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.'
    Hey couch,

    Check out "reported speech" to get the best answer to your query.

    You can repeat over yourself or someone else's information by repeating what he said in the past while keeping the original phrase.

    He said that he will help me with my homework. You're repeating what he said

    He said that he would help me with my homework. No repetition.

    I am not a native speaker. If I said anything wrong, I would be happy to be stand corrected.
     

    Couch Tomato

    Senior Member
    Russian & Dutch
    Thank you, wandle and Sitfled.

    Check out "reported speech" to get the best answer to your query.
    I've looked up this topic in Advanced Grammar in Use and believe that the author would accept 'I promised that I will wash the car':

    If the situation we are reporting still exists or is still in the future and the verb in the reporting clause has a past tense, then we can use either would or will, can or could, or may or might in the reported clause:
    'The problem can be solved.' ---> They said the problem can/could be solved.

    (Advanced Grammar in Use – Martin Hewings)

    Interesting.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Clearly he would accept it and many people do.
    I would say either 'They said that the problem could be solved' or 'They have said that the problem can be solved'.

    This seems to me to meet three requirements at once:
    (1) it preserves the present context for facts that are still present or future;
    (2) it maintains the distinction between simple past and present perfect tense;
    and (3) it observes the correct sequence of tenses following the respective introductory tenses.
     

    Stifled

    Member
    Hebrew
    I came across this topic during my studies. It was something like:

    "You told me that the cab will be here ten minutes ago."

    My teacher was a bit dazed at first but after some back and forth she told me it was a matter of "reported speech"
     

    Couch Tomato

    Senior Member
    Russian & Dutch
    Thank you, wandle.

    I see where you're coming from.

    Looking at the texts in Google Books, this topic seems to be rather devisive:

    In reported speech there is no backshift of those modals which are already past in form or which have no past form, i.e. might remains might and must remains must; epistemic will, can and may can be shifted to would, could and might, though this need not be the case.
    (A Survey of Modern English - Stephan Gramley & Kurt-Michael Patzold)

    When the Reporting Verb is in the Past Tense, the Present Tenses of the Direct Speech are changed into the corresponding Past Tenses.
    (d) "Shall" of the Future Tense changes to "should", "will" changes to "would" or "should"
    Example:
    He said to me, "I will meet you tomorrow."
    He told me that he would meet me the next day.

    (The Pearson MAT Super Course)

    In think it's safe to say that 'I promised that I will wash the car' is by no means wrong, but not everyone would accept it, as can be judged from the responses in this thread.
     

    Ahmed Al Saady

    Member
    Arabic
    Hi, everyone!
    I hope everything's alright.
    I'd like to tell someone about 3 actions that TOOK PLACE a few years ago,
    and I don't know how to use tenses correctly;
    I'd like to say:
    I promised her (that) I would stop writing poetry the day we BREAK up with each other...
    I don't know I should use the simple past tense of break; so...
    I promised her (that) I would stop writing poetry the day we BROKE up with each other...(by the way, the three actions DID take place)
    My question is...
    Is the following sentence correct:
    'I promised her (that) I would stop writing poetry the day we BROKE up with each other'?
    Thank you!
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    You need to analyse the whole of the sentence:
    1. "I promised her -> subject, verb, indirect object -> the verb's tense is irrelevant, any tense will fit at this point.
    2. (that) I would stop writing poetry -> noun clause as direct object. The only restriction here is that the tense is backshifted as this is reported speech.
    3. [on the] the day -> prepositional modifier
    4. that we BREAK up with each other... relative clause modifying "day" -> the verb's tense is irrelevant, as the verb is in a clause that describes "day" and this can be described in any way you want.
    The tense verb in 2 is unconnected to any other tenses -> It is a record of what you promised.

    This means that the two sentences are both correct but neither are very clear. I am still not sure when you said either sentence, or if your actual words were
    1. "I will stop writing poetry on the day we BREAK up with each other"
    or you said
    2. "I will stop writing poetry" on the day you broke up.
     

    Ahmed Al Saady

    Member
    Arabic
    You need to analyse the whole of the sentence:
    1. "I promised her -> subject, verb, indirect object -> the verb's tense is irrelevant, any tense will fit at this point.
    2. (that) I would stop writing poetry -> noun clause as direct object. The only restriction here is that the tense is backshifted as this is reported speech.
    3. [on the] the day -> prepositional modifier
    4. that we BREAK up with each other... relative clause modifying "day" -> the verb's tense is irrelevant, as the verb is in a clause that describes "day" and this can be described in any way you want.
    The tense verb in 2 is unconnected to any other tenses -> It is a record of what you promised.

    This means that the two sentences are both correct but neither are very clear. I am still not sure when you said either sentence, or if your actual words were
    1. "I will stop writing poetry on the day we BREAK up with each other"
    or you said
    2. "I will stop writing poetry" on the day you broke up.
    Hi, Paulq!
    I hope everything's alright.
    1st & foremost, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my question!
    "I promise you (that) I'll stop writing poetry the day we break up with each other," I said to my ex a few years ago (this is exactly what I told her a few years ago).
    "Why did you stop writing poetry?" someone asked me this morning;
    I didn't know how to answer her question.

    There's something else I'd like to ask you about...
    Should I use "ON" before the day?

    For example:
    I was the saddest person in the world the day (when) you left.
    Is this sentence wrong—or I should use the "ON" before "THE DAY"?

    Thank you very much!
     
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    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    A: "Why did you stop writing poetry?"

    You answer has to have two elements

    When the promise was made + The time the promise would take effect = the confirmation that you have stopped writing poetry and when you did it.

    B: "When I was with her [this establishes when the next part was said], I told my girlfriend that I would stop writing poetry if we BROKE up with each other[conditional sentence] - I stopped because we did[result and answer]."
    Should I use "ON" before the day?
    It is not necessary at all, I included it to demonstrate that "the day" is, in fact, "[on] the day -> prepositional modifier": see #22 above.
     
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