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I often told you we'd go there when spring arrives.

That sentence seems funny to me. It means that in the past the speaker would often promise the listener that when spring arrives they would go to a certain place together. Is it grammatically correct?

What about these alternatives?

I often told you we'd go there when spring arrived.

I'm not sure if "arrives" or "arrived" should be used.

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See here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/16388/… –  Cerberus Apr 15 '11 at 23:24

3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

If spring is still in the future, you should use arrives.

The past tense:

I often told you we'd go there when spring arrived.

implies that spring has already arrived. On the other hand, if spring arrived long ago, you must use arrived. If the arrival of spring is recent, either one works.

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By considering the related sentence "I often told you we'd eat cake when Grandma visits," I can figure out more accurately what is going on with the grammar. You have to use visits if Grandma's visit is in the future, and you have to use visited if Grandma's visit is in the past. You can use either tense if Grandma is currently visiting. Since spring's arrival is gradual, my feeling is that you could use either tense during most of spring. –  Peter Shor Apr 20 '11 at 13:49

I often told you we'd go there when spring arrives. That sentence seems funny to me. It means that in the past the speaker would often promise the listener that when spring arrives they would go to a certain place together. Is it grammatically correct?

What about these alternatives?

I often told you we'd go there when spring arrived. I'm not sure if "arrives" or "arrived" should be used.

This is an example of a report of some previous speech. It is a common misconception in English that "tenses must match", that we have rules for tense concord. That's not true. If it was true, then there would be certain things that we couldn't express.

Yes, it is grammatically correct. The timing, that is, when the sentence is spoken, could render either 'arrives' or 'arrived' semantically odd.

In English, to mark speech as reported [not direct], we can and often do a 'backshift' which means that we drop one tense into the past, NOT as a marker of true tense/time shifting but solely to indicate that the speech isn't a direct quote.

If we wanted to reassure, we might even choose,

I often tell you [do I not?] that we will go there when spring arrives.

Mother: [to child] We will go there when spring arrives.

Child: [later relating this to friends] My mom told me [that] we will/would go there when spring arrived/arrives.

As we can see, there is a choice. We can backshift to mark it as indirect/reported speech, or as we often do, or actually not do, we don't backshift when the event is still current, still to be.

The problem comes when people think that because 'told', the reporting verb is in the past tense, that everything else has to match. But this is false. The reason that 'told' and other reporting verbs are in the past is because that has actually finished. The remainder of the speech is often not finished, it is still to come.

So, again, the switch to past tense FORM, which is a grammatical function unrelated to an actual tense/time shift, is done for the sole purpose of marking speech as indirect/reported.

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Grammatically it seems that 'arrived' is correct. But idiomatically 'arrives' should be correct to denote that spring has arrived now. Since the principal clause and the subordinate clause should agree in tense in this case, 'arrived' is applicable in any case, i.e. whether it is spring or fall doesn't matter. But if it is spring now, I would prefer to say 'arrives'. If it is fall never use 'arrives'.

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So when speaking which one would someone use? What if spring has already passed and this is said in the fall? –  language hacker Apr 15 '11 at 21:31
    
But doesn't it sound weird to use "arrived," since when this was said spring had not arrived yet? –  language hacker Apr 15 '11 at 21:43
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It is not true that both the clauses must use the same tense: "We will eat when your mother arrives." –  kiamlaluno Apr 16 '11 at 2:25

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