3
  • Mendoza said that's the way it worked.

In this sentence why are we using that's?
Why not that was? Wouldn't that was be much better?
To clarify my question, Mendoza originally said

  • "That's the way it works".
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  • Oh, that is a good question! :) -- that is: Why is there a backshifted "worked" but a non-backshifted "that is", and is that grammatical? – F.E. May 24 '14 at 17:56
  • Let me be clearer: I think you are right, that there is something wrong with that example sentence. :) -- after I'm officially up and about, I think I would like to dig into this a bit. – F.E. May 24 '14 at 18:13
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Yes, I think you are right.

For that context, the indirect reported speech version of:

  • 0.) Mendoza said that's the way it worked.

would not be grammatical when the original utterance was:

  • "That's the way it works." -- [original utterance, as spoken by Mendoza]

(Note: I'm using the phrase "not be grammatical" loosely here, for it to mean that the interpretation of the example sentence would not be what the speaker or writer had intended for that given situation.)

LONG VERSION: For the original utterance, let me un-contract the contraction so that we can see the verbs more clearly, and so we then have:

  • "That is the way it works." -- [original utterance]

There are two present-tense verbs involved. The verb "is" heads the matrix clause. The verb "works" heads its subordinate clause, which happens to be an integrated relative clause.

Here are some acceptable indirect reported speech versions for that above utterance:

  • 1.) Mendoza said [that was the way it worked]. -- [backshifted + backshifted]

  • 2.) Mendoza said [that was the way it works]. -- [backshifted + non-backshifted]

  • 3.) Mendoza said [that is the way it works]. -- [non-backshifted + non-backshifted]

Notice how the verbs in the subordinate clause "that is the way it works" can be backshifted or not backshifted (though, there is a constraint).

Version #1 would be considered to be the default version: that is, it is unremarkable. Version #2 might be preferred in some certain contexts. Version #3 might be preferred in some certain other contexts.

But the following version (which corresponds to the indirect reported speech version in the OP's post) is not acceptable for the OP's given situation:

  • 4) Mendoza said [that is the way it worked]. -- [non-backshifted + backshifted]

That it is unacceptable makes sense, for even with the surrounding context, it would not be reasonable to expect the addressee or listener to figure out the speaker's intended meaning. Using the verb "is" in the subordinate clause is telling the listener that, from now on, there will be no more backshifting done--that the speaker will be reporting with the same tenses as used in the original utterance.

Here is a related excerpt from a vetted grammar source, the 2002 CGEL page 156:

Backshift with a complex original utterance

When the original utterance is complex, with a primary subordinate clause embedded in a main clause, the options are as shown in:

[25]

  • i. I am leaving before he returns. -- [original utterance]

  • ii. She said she was leaving before he returned. -- [backshifted + backshifted]

  • iii. She said she was leaving before he returns. -- [backshifted + non-backshifted]

  • iv. She said she is leaving before he returns. -- [non-backshifted + non-backshifted]

It is not possible, however, to have non-backshifted + backshifted (* She said she is leaving before he returned): once one has exercised the option of selecting a deictic tense, the option of selecting a non-deictic, backshifted, one is no longer available.

Thus if there is more than one level of embedding, as when the original utterance is I'm sorry I'm leaving before he returns, we can have a backshifted preterite corresponding to all three present tenses, the first two, or just the first one, but these are the only possibilities.

Notice that in the above CGEL excerpt, that it says "It is not possible, however, to have non-backshifted + backshifted", and that is precisely what the indirect reported speech version in the OP's post is attempting to do.

The 2002 CGEL is the 2002 reference grammar by Huddleston and Pullum et al., The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL).

0

We have a third person here in this conversation.

Farooq said to Calypto, "Mendoza said that's the way it worked."

Calypto replied, "Who is this Mendoza?"

  • The reason we use "that's" is because whatever this "that" refers to still works. Hence, " that is". If whatever this "that" refers to had worked for Mendoza but it doesn't work now, then you will use "that was."

If the conversation was between two person, you and me, then:

Farooq said, "That's the way it works."

It's indirect speech would be:

Farooq said that that was the way it worked.

0

There are over 97 000 000 Google hits for 'That's how it was' [in double inverted commas].

It would be convenient to be able to say that one can regard that's as having a third expanded form, 'that was', but I can find no evidence to support this.

However, 'that's' is becoming a set idiom opaque to number and tense as Calif Jim says, at least in part, for the corresponding structures with it:

The It's or It is or It was ... are invariable in all versions of this formula.

Here are some examples:

That's John at the door.

That's them.

That's just how it is.

That's the way it was in those days.

The latter two sentences would rarely be expanded to 'That is ...'.

Where confusion might occur, 'that was' must not be inferred:

That's John at the door ≠ That was John at the door.

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  • I want so bad to prove that that's can be a contraction of that was, but I simply cannot come up with any good examples and must agree that that's has become an idiom without respect to number or tense. Well put Edwin! Interesting that though it can be used referencing a past occurrence, one must use that was if the time of the occurrence is critical. Nevertheless, I see nothing wrong with that's the way it worked, unless it is critical to express a routine process now occurs differently. – Mike May 24 '14 at 9:57
  • Thanks for the symbol, @Andrew Leach. I'm surprised you've deleted your answer; I think the distinctions you draw between That is the way it worked and That was the way it worked are interesting. While I'd argue an unaccentuated That was the way it worked is synonymous with That is /That's the way it worked, you do need That was the way it worked (or a used to say) to imply a change since then. – Edwin Ashworth May 24 '14 at 10:33
  • @Mike: You can shorten that has to that's as in "That's worked", giving you a past (or perfect) tense. – Henry May 24 '14 at 10:33
  • @Henry It would be more relevant to say that 'twas is an archaic contraction of it was as a clause opening. – Edwin Ashworth May 24 '14 at 10:43
  • @EdwinAshworth My answer didn't really address the reported speech aspect of the question. It was right as far as it went, but reported speech introduces another layer of abstraction in time which needs addressing and I don't think I can explain that quite so simply! – Andrew Leach May 24 '14 at 10:51

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