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Should I use past tense in such sentences? Which one is correct?

If I said I was going to Canada, would you accompany me?
If I said I am going to Canada, would you accompany me?

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There is near-universal agreement that, in most examples of what is sometimes called the "second conditional", we should use the simple past after if, followed by the hypothetical consequence of the if condition which is expressed in a clause using the auxiliary verb would.

However, note that here, it is not the forms of the verb be (which are in bold text in your question) that should be in the simple past; rather, it is the form of the verb say.

Therefore, since say is in the simple past in both examples, both are proper "second conditional" sentences. (However, the second example would almost never be heard from a native speaker.)

To express your second example as a first conditional, both verbs would have to be in the simple present:

If I say I am going to Canada, will you accompany me?

Wikipedia includes a useful discussion of the second conditional.

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  • To sum up: does it mean that if I said I am is not idiomatic and if I said I was should be preferred, provided the situation is hypothetical and unlikely?
    – olegst
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 8:58
  • Yeah, the meat of what you're expounding isn't about what the inquirer, well, inquired. Would you mind addressing the actual issue by perhaps supplying contexts in which each of those sentences would sound natural? (Almost never suggests this possibility exists.)
    – user3395
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 9:37
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    @olegst Idiomatically, if I said I was is probably best. N.B.: In your examples, the tense of the copula is not germane to the conditionality of the sentence. Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 16:15
  • "the tense of the copula is not germane " - how do you mean? In both?
    – olegst
    Commented Jun 15, 2017 at 7:58
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    The copula in your sentences has no relationship to the conditionality of the sentences. In the sentence "If I said I am going to Canada, would you accompany me?" it is the tense of the verb say that is germane, not the tense of the copula be. Both sentences are valid "second conditional" sentences. Commented Jun 15, 2017 at 8:22

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