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I've seen the following examples in my textbook so far.

He said that his son would graduate from college next spring.

He said that he might come tomorrow.

I wonder that if a clause which indicates time or condition is added to these sentences, the new sentences become correct, like:

He said that his son would graduate from college if he [passes] the last examination next spring.

He said that he might come before he [goes] to school tomorrow.

Are these sentences correct? (I wonder the present tense can be used here, even though the other tenses in these sentences are all the past tense.) If not, how can we add clauses indicating time or condition to the former sentences?

  • Note that the clause which indicates time or condition (next spring, tomorrow in your examples) is by default relative to time of speaking (of you when saying/writing the example, not "him" when he said what you're reporting). To make them relative to the time when "he" was speaking, you'd have to change them to the next spring and [the] next day. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Dec 3 '18 at 17:14
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Both of those sentences are fine, but they would also be fine if you used the past tense:

He said that his son would graduate from college if he passed the last examination next spring.

These sentence are reported speech in which the verb has been backshifted to match the time frame when it was heard.

This also reflects the idea of perspective, in which English speakers modify the verb tense (or even the verb itself) to reflect a particular point-of-view. In your example you can use the present tense to focus the point-of-view on the future event of passing the exam, or you can use the past tense to focus the point-of-view on the past even of hearing him say this quote.

Another example:

I heard her say, if her family gave her the money, she would study abroad next year.

I heard her say, if her family gives her the money, she would study abroad next year.

  • Thank you for your answer. It's so helpful. You mean that we can refer to future events by the past tense in the clauses which indicate time or condition in the above cases, don't you? It's surprising. For confirmation, although there is an opinion that "next year" should be changed into "the next year" and "next spring" into "the next spring" if a clause is added like in examples above, it's not necessary in the case we refer to future events, is it? – Motoki Dec 4 '18 at 3:34
  • @Motoki FumbleFingers makes a valid point, but in my example the "the" is not really necessary. Adding "the" before "next year" makes it relative to the time the person is talking, and would be important if the quote is from some number of years ago. However, in this case the reported speech is fairly recent. So it's fine to say "next year" relative to the current moment, because you can assume it's the same as from the time of the quote. I hope that makes sense. – Andrew Dec 4 '18 at 7:10
  • @Motoki Anyway the most important concept in this example is backshifting, so you can recognize it and use it correctly. English speakers regularly backshift -- but not always, so it's useful to understand the difference. – Andrew Dec 4 '18 at 7:12
  • Thank you for your reply. Your answers are really helpful. I got it about what you say about the expressions like "next year" and "the next year". I'm sorry for repeating questions, but it's very thankful if you could let me confirm a thing finally. Am I correct in understanding that you regularly use the past tense based on the back-shifting in the cases like above examples, like "He said that he might come before he [went] to school tomorrow." even though "went" is actually a future event, and when you focus the point-of-view on the future event especially, you use the present tense? – Motoki Dec 4 '18 at 15:58
  • @Motoki Yes, the backshifted past tense would be fine, He said he might come by tomorrow before he went to school – Andrew Dec 4 '18 at 16:47

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