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I am writing a subordinate clause in the "Related Work" section of my academic paper. Which is correct?

In [1], Smith et al. pointed out that the solution is feasible.

OR

In [1], Smith et al. pointed out that the solution was feasible.

I am quite confused.

On the one hand, I remember clearly the verb tense in the "that" clause should follow that of the verb in the main sentence. Hence, "was" should be used, following "pointed".

On the other hand, Smith's work is always there and always thinks that the solution is feasible. Hence, the present tense should be used.

Which reasoning is correct?

(NOTE: The OP is asking if it is obligatory that the "is" verb is backshifted into "was", or if backshifting is not allowed, or if backshifting is optional. -- F.E.)

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    I'm afraid you've learned a zombie rule. There is no such rule about verb tenses in complement clauses; there are any number of patterns, and only the ones that don't make sense (like *She thinks I am to leave last month) are ungrammatical. Apr 1, 2014 at 0:01
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    This post on backshifting might be helpful for you: english.stackexchange.com/a/150743/57102
    – F.E.
    Apr 1, 2014 at 5:52

1 Answer 1

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I believe you can use either was or is but I would not use is in the sentence you wrote. This is a stylistic preference.

You state "Smith's work is always there and always thinks that the solution is feasible." Then why would you not think Smith et al. are not always present in [1]?

In [1], Smith et al. point out that the solution is feasible.

If it was some time ago, it might be better to stick with the past, and if you feel it is necessary to point out the continuing validity of the solution, you can do that.

In [1], Smith et al. pointed out that the solution was feasible, an option still in use today.

It partly depends on the (style and substance of the) rest of your paper, your preference, and the style preferences of the journal/audience to whom you will be presenting your work. I would either go with point/is or pointed/was. Pointed/is sounds a bit strange to my ear.

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  • but wouldn't pointed/was lead the readers to think that the solution used to be feasible, but now it is infeasible? Mar 31, 2014 at 22:44
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    @FP It shouldn't; was at that time feasible might (and used to be feasible would ). Mar 31, 2014 at 22:45

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