If I had two verb forms in a sentence, how should I use the tense? For example:

I heard that you were moving to London.

The situation is like this, the event (moving to London) has not taken place yet, but since I started the sentence with past tense (heard) Should I follow the same for the be form (were)? Or should I use "I heard that you are moving to London"? How should one use the tenses in these situations?

  • 2
    You were and you are would both be reduced to something like /yər/, with perhaps differing vowel length in some cases. Anyway, the difference between them would likely be inaudible at normal speech rates, and since it doesn't make any difference which one is used (I heard that you're moving to London is perfectly grammatical and normal English), the contraction removes the evidence. How you want to spell it is your business, of course; but the language has already decided the matter. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 17:11
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    Prof Lawler's comment isn't the case in British English. I've never heard you were shortened significantly in any British accent. You're is always you are. Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 17:33
  • Your question is about backshifting in reported speech. What you heard at the time was "He is moving to London". When you report what you heard to the person spoken about, you have to shift to the second person (you) since you're addressing that person and decide what to do with the present tense (is moving) in the original. Enter the words "reported speech" in the search box above for extended discussion. Short answer: you may backshift to the past or keep the present since the event is either imminent or ongoing.
    – deadrat
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 18:45
  • @JohnLawler What would be the case if I wanted to say, suppose "* You heard that I was moving to London*" ( The same situation where I haven't moved yet ). Should I use am instead of was ?
    – VaM999
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 22:59
  • @deadrat Thank you. I have found this link on the internet englishclub.com/grammar/sentence/reported-speech-backshift.htm It says that it is optional to backshift if the event is yet to take place or still taking place.
    – VaM999
    Commented Sep 19, 2016 at 23:12

2 Answers 2


If the action has not happened yet (e.g. they haven't moved to London yet, but you have heard they they will), use "heard you are". Though it is not always clear, using "heard you were" suggests that the action has already happened or should have happened.

"I heard you are moving to London" would mean that they are planning to move to London, but have not yet.

"I heard you were moving to London" would mean that they have already moved to London OR that they should have already moved to London


The past tense were is always correct:

I heard that you were moving to London.

But the present tense are is sometimes correct:

I heard that you are moving to London.

When you determine whether the present tense are is correct or not, it's a non-issue whether the event of moving to London has taken place or not at the time of speaking. The determining factor is when it was that you heard it.

If you heard it fairly recently (e.g., on the same day), you could easily get away with the present tense are. But if you heard it a long time ago (e.g., last year), the present tense are is not possible.

Of course, whether it's a recent event or not is fairly subjective. So, when in doubt, always go with the past tense were.

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