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I want to communicate this:

I didn't think the zoo would attract visitors in its state at the time.

What can I replace "state at the time" with? Perhaps something like "then-state"? I can't say "current state", because that would refer to the present state, not the state at the time I'm referring to.

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Try in its current state. Presuming, of course, that you have already established that particular current past state as the narrative tempus. –  John Lawler Nov 6 '12 at 3:51

4 Answers 4

up vote 1 down vote accepted

If you edit your sentence, you might remove some of the awkwardness of "in its state" (which clearly refers to the zoo, but seems for an instant to refer to the visitors), making "at the time" work better:

I didn't think the zoo would attract visitors, given the state it was in, at the time.
At that time, I didn't think the zoo would attract visitors, given the state it was in.
Given the state it was in, I didn't think the zoo would attract visitors at the time.

"At that time" might work a little better than "at the time."

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Thanks for the helpful suggestions! –  bevanb Nov 6 '12 at 4:28

I agree that current is likely to be ambiguous, unless as John Lawler says you have been very careful to fix your time references. You might, for instance, rewrite thus:

I did not at that time think the zoo would attract visitors in its current state.

Then may be used as an adjective, and in its then state is established idiom, at least in formal and semi-formal registers: here are some contemporary samples, courtesy of Google:

Lambert saw that if the Upton was defended it would be impossible to carry it in its then state. - Wikipedia
“At that point,” says Smith, “we expressed our dissatisfaction with the software in its then state and presented what we needed. -School Planning and Management
It was clearly unacceptable to present Diana's body to her family and the President of France in its then state. - Wikipedia
Fredericia was considered indefensible in its then state of repair, and for that reason artillery and all other usable materiel were hastily evacuated to Funen. - walledtowns.com

If you want something a little more colloquial, in the state it was in then (or then in) works.

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This should probably be moved to writers.se, but it seems to me the natural phrasing is just...

I didn't think the zoo would attract visitors as it was.

...which is the same construction as...

"I am not changing; if I cannot make it as I am, I will do something else."

There's one special idiomatic case where we use this construction "obliquely", as it were, but usually it has the literal sense of emphasising the innate (or [then-]current) state of someone/something.

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Maybe: "I didn't think the zoo would attract visitors in its previous state" or "former state".

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