Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I came across this sentence in the book Grammar Essentials for Dummies which confused me.

The lion with a thorn in her paw decided to wear sneakers the next time she went for a walk in the jungle.

Why is it went instead of goes? I always thought the next time indicated something in the future.

share|improve this question
    
My sense here is that it's because the sentence is in the past tense; that is, it's talking about a decision in the past not to use footwear on the next walk -- i.e., the next time she would have went walking. –  Joseph Weissman Jan 19 '13 at 0:57

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

In terms of time, it's not necessarily in the future.

It's in the future-of-the-past. The event of the lion next going for a walk is an event that can take place any time between the past event of her making that decision, and what is still the future. It could be tomorrow, but if the lion decided this last week, then that walk could have been yesterday.

Since the superordinate clause is in the past tense, backshifting can bring the subordinate into the past too.

On the other hand, if we we had that clause in the present tense:

The lion with a thorn in her paw decided to wear sneakers the next time she goes for a walk in the jungle.

That suggests that this walk is asserted to still in the future. Backshifting isn't required for a statement about the present or future that still holds.

share|improve this answer
2  
So if the statement is The lion with a thorn in her paw has decided to wear sneakers the next time she goes for a walk in the jungle. then it should be always goes, isn't it? Because has decided emphasizes the decision has taken place in recent past. –  Mistu4u Jan 19 '13 at 5:01
    
@Mistu4u yes. Not so much a matter of the recent past, as that the perfect past tense implies that the action of or consequences of the verb still apply into the present. That said, as grammarians have been debating just when you can, when you can't and when you must backshift, for the last few hundred years, I'm not going to claim to know a clear and simple rule to follow across the board. –  Jon Hanna Jan 19 '13 at 13:24

The sentence is reporting the decision by the lion.

As the decision to wear sneakers the next time she goes for a walk is in the past, it is reported by backshifting the verbs - she decided to wear sneakers the next time she went for a walk.

To backshift verbs:

Simple present > Simple past
Present Perfect > Past Perfect
Simple Past > Past Perfect

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.