Could anyone tell me if the sentence "There was a rumor that Citibank is in debt." is grammatically correct ?

Please advise me. Some say it is correct while others say it is ungrammatical. I'm lost.


Someone is thinking of the alleged rule (I was taught Latin names for these English forms, so oratio obliqua) whereby the tense of the main verb forces the same tense in subordinate clauses. Andrew Leach says it doesn't exist, but perhaps I and your corrector are not the only ones who think it does. "He thinks she is pretty", but "He told her that she WAS pretty". So technically it should be, according to this school of misunderstood Latinity, "There was a rumour that Citibank WAS in debt", but if it still is in debt, one might decide to sacrifice the rule for the precision.

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  • Thanks for your reply. But if its not still in a debt, then will it be correct to say "There was a rumor that Citibank is in debt." ? – iamRR May 31 '15 at 19:03
  • Not properly, no, but most people won't care. The rule to which I referred is probably known only to wrinklies and young fogeys. – David Pugh May 31 '15 at 19:08
  • There is no rule in English [unlike Latin] which forces the tense of subordinate clauses to be the same as the main clause, because -- as you say -- sometimes the "rule" reduces precision. I'm unclear as to whether this answer says English does have the Latin rule, or does not. – Andrew Leach May 31 '15 at 19:10
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    @Andrew. I would never force "boldly to go" on anyone else, but I just can't write "to boldly go" myself. My fingers declare industrial action. – David Pugh May 31 '15 at 19:17
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    That question has already been answered more than once. – Andrew Leach May 31 '15 at 19:28

There was a rumour (at the meeting I just attended) that Brokenshire is (currently) in debt.

That would seem to me to be a perfectly valid construction.

But Six moths ago there was a rumour circulating that Brokenshire was (then) in debt.

This is entirely a question of which tenses sound right in the circumstances. But they do not have to match, for obvious reasons.

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  • Thanks for your reply. My intention of asking question is, if Citibank is not in a debt and I know it for a fact then under this circumstance, will it be correct to say "There was a rumor that Citibank is in debt." ? – iamRR May 31 '15 at 19:22
  • @iamRR I see nothing at all wrong with that. – WS2 May 31 '15 at 19:26
  • Okay let me put it the other way. Suppose I'm narrating a past incident (incident which happened a year ago) to my friend and in which one of the sentence goes like "There was a rumor that Citibank is in debt." So here is 'is' correct or do I need to use 'was' instead ? – iamRR May 31 '15 at 19:37
  • Or will it be correct to say " A year ago there was a rumor that Citibank IS in a debt." ? – iamRR May 31 '15 at 19:46
  • @iamRR: Whatever the merits of the tenses, you should desist from saying "is in a debt." – David Pugh May 31 '15 at 20:42

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