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Suppose it is now 12 o’clock at noon and I want to tell my mother I will have three meetings: one in the afternoon, one three days later, and one in several months. If I spoke at 9 in the morning, which tense should be used in the following sentences, simple past tense or past future tense?

  1. I told my mother I had a meeting in the afternoon.
    I told my mother I had a meeting three days later.
    I told my mother I had a meeting several months later.

  2. I told my mother I would have a meeting in the afternoon.
    I told my mother I would have a meeting three days later.
    I told my mother I would have a meeting several months later.

Which group of sentences is correct, and what are the reasons?

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    They're all fine. It depends on whether you want to add the extra syllable of would and the infinitive construction, since the meanings are identical. And would have is not a tense, by the way; it's a modal auxiliary construction, just like might have, could have, or should have, which are also OK grammatically here, though the probabilities expressed by the modals vary. – John Lawler Nov 26 '13 at 17:41
  • Isn't the meaning slightly different? I had a meeting yesterday could imply Yesterday I met with other managers, or Yesterday, my schedule included a meeting tomorrow, but fortunately this morning it was cancelled. Yes, I know the second is contrived and would not actually be used; I'm trying to indicate a posible difference of kind, not degree. – Tim Lymington Nov 26 '13 at 18:23
  • The answer depends on the correct interpretation of your question, which I am struggling with. Do you mean: At 9am you spoke with someone and arranged three meetings; at 12 o'clock you told your mother about the arranged meetings; and then at some time later you told someone else (or wrote in your diary, etc.) what you said to your mother? (If it is indeed now 12 o'clock as you state, then you would just say to your mother: "I have a meeting this afternoon", etc.) – Shoe Nov 26 '13 at 18:35
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I too am confused about the timings. But I am assuming you mean that you spoke to your mother at 9.00am, when you told her the times of all these meetings. It is now 12.00 noon, i.e. three hours later.

Group 1.

Based on the above I do not think they are grammatically strictly correct and unambiguous. I would have said:

I told my mother I had a meeting THIS afternoon. (To make it clear which afternoon)

I told my mother I had a meeting IN THREE DAYS' TIME. (Making it clear when the timing of the three days starts)

I told my mother I had a meeting IN SEVERAL MONTHS' TIME.

In each case above 'had' could be changed to 'have' with a slight change in nuance. Generally speaking I would use 'had' if I were contradicting, or emphasising. If I were simply reporting I would probably use 'have'.

Group 2.

I am in agreement with John Lawler (above comment) about the use of 'would'.

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  • Many thanks for your kind and timely help. I sincerely appreciate. – user57916 Nov 30 '13 at 10:51

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