John said that he <will> <would> help me. Now ... says that won't help me.

loviii

Senior Member
Russian
Good day!

(1) Yesterday, John said that he will help me. Now, I'm talking to John on the phone, and he says that won't help me.
It means John said yesterday: "I will help you." And because the time when John originally planned to help me has not yet come, in indirect speech we should stay "will".

(2) Yesterday, John said that he would help me. Now, I'm talking to John on the phone, and he says that won't help me.
"Would" can't mean here backshift for "will" for the reason described in the explanation for (1). Therefore it can only mean that John said yesterday already with "would": "I would help you," - i.e. he used a subjunctive mood. On my opinion this doesn't sound good in the given context, so in the indirect speech in (2) this can't sound good too.

Am I right and if not, then why?

Thanks!
 
  • Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    You're partly right. Here is a corrected version:

    (1) Yesterday, John said that he will help me. Now, I'm talking to John on the phone, and he says that won't help me. :cross:
    It means John said yesterday: "I will help you." And because the time when John promised is in the past, in indirect speech we should say "will".:cross: This is incorrect, as se16teddy has explained.

    (2) Yesterday, John said that he would help me. Now, I'm talking to John on the phone, and he says that won't help me. :tick:
    "Would" is the correct backshift for "will".:tick:

    (If John had said "I would help you," he would have used the subjunctive conditional mood. )
     

    loviii

    Senior Member
    Russian
    (1) Yesterday, John said that he will help me. Now, I'm talking to John on the phone, and he says that won't help me. :cross:
    ... This is incorrect, as se16teddy has explained.
    But se16teddy said the other way around:
    When there is a "continuing truth" you can optionally retain the tense of the direct speech, to emphasize that there is a continuing truth.
    I'm confused. Keith Bradford, could you make it a little clearer please?

    Thanks!
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I did not say it the other round.
    "Yesterday John said that he will help me".
    This implies that he will help me - there is a continuing truth. If John now says that he won't help, there is no continuing truth. He won't help (is refusing to help).
     

    loviii

    Senior Member
    Russian
    "Yesterday John said that he will help me".
    This implies that he will help me - there is a continuing truth. If John now says that he won't help, there is no continuing truth. He won't help (is refusing to help).
    Let me add time markers in order for me to easier understand you:
    Yesterday, John said that he will help me at 5 p.m. tomorrow. Now at 2 p.m., I'm talking to John on the phone, and he says that won't help me at 5 p.m. today.

    You mean that this version with "will" is incorrect and we must use here only "would".

    Did I understand you right?

    Thanks!
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    There are no time markers in the sentences of #1.

    "Fred said he will help" implies that Fred will help. This is the basic rule about what we mean when we do not backshift in indirect speech. If Fred now says "I won't help", it is untrue to say "Fred said he will help": we must say "Fred said he would help".

    I think that the absence of a proper future tense in English may be relevant here. "I will help" does not distinguish between present and future willingness, or between present and future actions that need help.
     
    Last edited:

    loviii

    Senior Member
    Russian
    I should have written "today" in the first sentence instead of "tomorrow" to make it correct:
    Yesterday, John said that he <will> <would> help me at 5 p.m. today. Now at 2 p.m., I'm talking to John on the phone, and he says that won't help me at 5 p.m. today.

    I think that the absence of a proper future tense in English may be relevant here. "I will help" does not distinguish between present and future willingness, or between present and future actions that need help.
    Sorry, I couldn't understand this passage.

    "Fred said he will help" implies that Fred will help. This is the basic rule about what we mean when we do not backshift in indirect speech. If Fred now says "I won't help", it is untrue to say "Fred said he will help": we must say "Fred said he would help".
    So, I have made the conclusion from your explanation that "would" in the next sentence is the only correct variant:
    Yesterday, John said that he <will> <would> help me at 5 p.m. today. Now at 2 p.m., I'm talking to John on the phone, and he says that won't help me at 5 p.m. today.

    Is it so?

    Thanks!
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    The word “will” has many meanings. It mostly refers to the future, but not always.
    So, I have made the conclusion from your explanation that "would" in the next sentence is the only correct variant:
    Yesterday, John said that he <will> <would> help me at 5 p.m. today. Now at 2 p.m., I'm talking to John on the phone, and he says that won't help me at 5 p.m. today.
    :tick:
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    (1) Yesterday, John said that he will help me. Now, I'm talking to John on the phone, and he says that won't help me.
    It means John said yesterday: "I will help you." And because the time when John originally planned to help me has not yet come, in indirect speech we should stay "will".
    You are wrong to conclude that because the time has not yet come, you should say 'will'. Sentence (1) is wrong.

    Because John now says he won't help you, you need to change to
    (2) Yesterday, John said that he would help me. Now, I'm talking to John on the phone, and he says that he won't help me.

    As people have said, you can always backshift when the reporting verb is in the past, but mustn't fail to backshift when the reported item ceases to be the case.

    Because he now says he won't help, the first part of the sentence needs to be John said he would etc.

    The default position is that we backshift, but where there is a pressing need to stress the present urgency of something, we omit to do so: eg.

    He said the fire engine is on its way - people are comforted by the thought that it will soon be here.

    He said the fire engine was on its way would be correct, but might raise doubts in the listeners' minds about whether it was still coming.

    Even for so-called eternal truths we often backshift: He said the earth was round - we can happily assume he still thinks the earth is round.
     
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