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This is another question on backshifting.

I looked at other such questions at ELU & ELL, it appears that the general consensus is something like 'if the reported situation still hasn't changed, it's possible to not backshift'.

However after some googling I also see that people tend to think that verbs like thought/knew/promised etc. maybe should always be backshifted, as opposed to said/told etc., because they supposedly refer more to the action of reporting itself, not the reported one.

Also the tense of the reported incident (future in my case) seems to possibly have some impact on correctness in such cases... and maybe reported situations being not common facts, and being dependent on the reporter themselves might have some impact as well...

So basically, which of these sentences are (can be) correct?

(1) Yesterday, he said he will go to the party tomorrow. (probably correct?)

(2) Yesterday, he thought he will go to the party tomorrow.

(3) Yesterday, he knew he will go to the party tomorrow. (and today maybe he's not so sure anymore)

(4) Yesterday, he promised he will go to the party tomorrow.

(5) Yesterday, he didn't know if he will go to the party tomorrow.

Intuitively, judging by all the info I've found so far, I would guess that all of these might be correct; but I'm not sure.

There are, however, even some quotes stating that 'would' might be forbidden in some cases:

If will is the modal in the reported utterance and expresses future time, and if the situation described in the quote still holds true at the time of the indirect report, the will may not be changed to would even though the reporting verb is in the past tense:

Mr. Arden said that a volcanic eruption will occur next year.

This obviously is a dup in some sense; well, I hope in some sense it isn't.

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  • Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.
    – Community Bot
    Jul 1 at 3:19
  • Please number the sentences you're asking about, to make it easier to respond efficiently. Jul 1 at 3:21
  • Personally, I find (4) and (5) acceptable, but the others seem awkward. I think most native speakers would get round the problem by using the present-tense-as-future (He said "I'm going to the party", reported as He said/thought/knew he was going) or changing it to He said he intended/was planning to go. Jul 1 at 7:29
  • He said that he's going (present as future) would be idiomatic too, but you can't use that with thought or knew. Jul 1 at 11:22
  • To me it also sounds more idiomatic if you change "will" to "would".
    – Barmar
    Jul 1 at 22:21

1 Answer 1

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(1) Yesterday, he said he will go to the party tomorrow. Okay, I guess, but I'm not completely sure when he will go to the party -- today or tomorrow? But "He said he will go on Thursday" would be A-OK.

(2) Yesterday, he thought he will go to the party tomorrow. No, must change "will" to "would" here -- the "he thought" does change things.

(3) Yesterday, he knew he will go to the party tomorrow. *No, must change "will" to "would" because of "he knew".

(4) Yesterday, he promised he will go to the party tomorrow. Most of the time, people will change "will" to "would" with the past tense of "promised." But I can imagine saying, "I really feel I have to go. I promised, absolutely, that I will be there." This is especially plausible if it's very emphatic. But "would" would be more common even in this sentence.

(5) Yesterday, he didn't know if he will go to the party tomorrow. People will generally change "will" to "would" for this. But look at this one: "He didn't know whether he will go or not." It's more likely to keep the "will" with "whether" instead of "if." The "will" and the "whether" have a bit of a legalistic tone. For example, if the various positions on the timeline must be clarified precisely.

The Mr. Arden sentence is fine.

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  • Do you think the Mr. Arden sentence would be incorrect with ‘would’?
    – deshalder
    Jul 2 at 14:31
  • @deshalder - for that sentence you get to choose. Either way works there. Maybe there are some helpful Q-As about this topic on ELL or here -- I haven't looked, to be honest. But ELL has a lot of great material. Jul 3 at 1:37

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