When I got home yesterday, John called and said he will arrive next week. (Wikipedia)

Wikipedia says the sentence above is possible. Does it not break the tense agreement when there’s no quotation mark? I suspect 'will' needs to be changed into 'would', when there is no quotation mark in the sentence, like John called and said, 'I will arrive next week.'

  • Could you update the question to say what you think it should be, and why that is? Mar 30, 2013 at 12:53
  • If it's "arrive" you're asking about, the way I read it, "called and said he would arrive in a week" means a week from when he called; "called and said he will arrive in a week" means a week from today. In your particular instance, these two weeks are both the same, but they don't have to be. Mar 30, 2013 at 12:54
  • @PeterShor, I added some letters to clarify my point. It is without quotation mark whether 'will' could be used or not.
    – Listenever
    Mar 30, 2013 at 13:10
  • 1
    @Listenever: It's not clear what is meant by "tense agreement"; there is no single rule of English with that name, and there are many, many false rules spread by ignorant textbook writers and teachers. Consequently most people are confused by grammar and cling to rules as if they must be obeyed. Actually they are just lists of options to choose from. There's nothing wrong with the sentence; it just doesn't work the way you're expecting it to. Mar 30, 2013 at 15:33

1 Answer 1


Strict sequence-of-tenses gets muddy when Speech time, Event time and Reference time overlap, as in your instance.

When I got home yesterday, John called and said he will arrive next week.

Here, the Event time (next week, the time of the event ‘I’ am speaking about in this clause) happens to lie in the future with respect to both the time when John called (yesterday) and the time in which the sentence is uttered (Speech time). Consequently, ‘I’ may use either as the Reference time (the point in time to which the event is related) for speaking about that event:

John called yesterday and said he would arrive next week. ... Here Reference time = the time of John's call.

John called yesterday and said he will arrive next week. ... Here Reference time = Speech time.

Note that there are opposed pressures here. On the one hand, the time of John's arrival (the Event we are concerned with) was pinned down in his call, so there's pressure to use the time of the call as the Reference time and use would. On the other hand, the phrase next week takes Speech time as its Reference time, so there is some degree of pressure for the event which it modifies to do the same and use will. The two pressures balance, and you may choose whichever is more appropriate to what you are trying to communicate:

I'm so excited! John said he will come next week!

John said yesterday that he would arrive next week, but I think he underestimated how long it would take him.

You are only required to use would if Event time lies in the past with respect to Speech time and you are relating Event time to a time even farther in the past:

John called on the 15th and said then that he would arrive on the 20th; but it's now the 30th and he still isn't here.

Here the Speech time is the 30th; the Event time for John's arrival is the 20th; and it is related to a Reference time of the 15th.

  • Your answer is the grand finale in my two days Tense Journey. I hope, if there’s any publisher here, he may try to bind your answers or encourage you to publish them for Deeper Understanding Language or something. Thank you.
    – Listenever
    Mar 30, 2013 at 23:27
  • I hope the journey was not too tense; a good neck massage might help. :) ... You mustn't give me too much credit; I steal all this stuff from writers who understand it much better than I. I never heard of Reference time and the rest until I tried to learn Hebrew back in the 90s and nobody could agree what those tenses meant. Mar 30, 2013 at 23:36
  • I, also, ironically, learned the ‘Reference Time’ in Korean linguistic explanations in domestic websites, although I had stated to fumble around English Tense. And helped by the knowledge, I could understand what you said today. As you’ve said, leaning foreign language also help to hone my own. I remind one said, while explaining Chomsky, if any alien come and have examined all kinds of languages on earth, he will finally get the conclusion that all languages on earth are one, not many.
    – Listenever
    Mar 31, 2013 at 0:02
  • Related.
    – tchrist
    Jan 29, 2023 at 14:54

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