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I've bumped into a YouTube clip (Here is the extracted text for the sake of convenience and context) that deals with the difference between 'Will' and 'Would'.

Among other examples, they have chosen to present these two sentences:

A. We told people the doors of our English school will be open on January 2, 2019. (Minute 02:26)

B. We already agreed this will happen! (Minute 03:11)

I can't help but wonder why they have chosen 'Will' over 'Would', as British council's website says that:

We use would as the past tense of will: to talk about what people wanted to do or were willing to do in the past.

  • Hi @SunnySideDown, I'm a little confused at your question. It looks like you have given an accurate description of the difference between will and would. Please could you summarise what you are asking? – Bee Jun 19 at 15:53
  • Hello @Bee, Examples A and B doesn't stand with the description. I would expect them to use 'would' rather than 'will'. Basically, I want to know if examples A and B are grammatically valid, given the fact they deal with past time and the contain 'will' at the same time. If the examples are valid, what will the reason for this? – SunnySideDown Jun 19 at 22:19
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    Why do you assume they deal with the past? A is now past, but at the time could have been in the future and B could easily be future. The house is not build yet, but we've already agreed it will be painted white. – Bee Jun 19 at 22:30
  • A is a reported speech - we told them. B just seems to be sitting perfectly with the given definition; "We use would as the past tense of will: to talk about what people wanted to do or were willing to do in the past." – SunnySideDown Jun 19 at 22:45
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    You could point to the specific times in the clip. Example A is here and Example B is here. – laugh Jun 21 at 9:58
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+50

Backshift in the reporting clause is optional when the time reference of what's being reported is still valid at the time of the report.

Examples:

They thought that the prison conditions have improved.

I heard her say that she is studying business administration.

are both correct, as well as:

They thought that the prison conditions had improved.

I heard her say that she was studying business administration.

So in your case, the reporter is simply not backshifting the tense. Take the example of :

A. We told people the doors of our English school will be open on January 2, 2019.

Since the youtube video was published on March 15, 2018, it can be deduced that the report happened earlier than March 15, 2018, and so the time reference in the clause was still valid at the time of the report (The doors of our English school will be open on January 2, 2019.). This makes backshift optional.

It is also correct to backshift. So the following are also correct:

A. We told people the doors of our English school would be open on January 2, 2019.

B. We already agreed this would happen!

You can see https://english.stackexchange.com/q/240479/313714 for more details.

  • Thank you. Assimilating your answer, let's imagine that the video was published on January 4, 2019 (after the opening of the English school). In that case, using 'will' instead of 'would' would be completely wrong? – SunnySideDown Jun 21 at 20:38
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    To be precise, what matters is when the sentence "We told people..." was reported. If the sentence was said on January 4, 2019, then using 'will' would be wrong, because the time reference of what was being reported would no longer be valid (not in the future anymore). Since the video was published on March 15, 2018, and so the date the sentence was reported has to be earlier than that date. – Tom Bennett Jun 21 at 21:07
  • "I heard her said that she was studying business administration"? That does not sound correct to me. – laugh Jun 21 at 23:34
  • Nice catch. It was a typo and is now corrected. Thanks for pointing it out. Let me know if there is anything else that is not clear. – Tom Bennett Jun 23 at 3:50
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The answer can be given in the context of the British council's web page you referred to. Here is a longer quote:

We use will to express beliefs about the present or future:

  • John will be in his office. (present)
  • We'll be late. (future)
  • We will have to take the train. (future)

We use would as the past of will, to describe past beliefs about the future:

  • I thought we would be late, so we would have to take the train.

Now, the examples you quoted from the video express Kristina's present belief, not her past belief. Therefore she correctly uses "will" in these sentences. The first part of both sentences refers to the past, but it is still her present belief.

Her friend Sarah, in contrast, uses "would" throughout the video; She is talking about her past belief (or sometimes about conditions that she thinks are not real; this is another use of "would" that you can find in the BC's page). The continuous use of "would" implies that it is not her current belief.

This distinction between current belief and past or conditional belief is exactly what the video is about.

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I told him the store will be open tomorrow.

It's 100% possible for both of these to be true at once and there is no contradiction.

  • You have completed telling him something.

  • The store will be open tomorrow.

An example would be if this order of events happened:

  • Store closed at 6pm.

  • You told your friend, at 6:30pm, that it will open tomorrow at 10am.

  • It's now 8pm, so you telling your friend happened in the past.

Let's say you did the above three days ago, and are telling someone else what you did - AND the store will not be open tomorrow from your current day. Then you would change the will to would.

Three days ago, I told him the store would be open tomorrow.

This is definitely ambiguous because you have to think about "which tomorrow", so it's more likely this would be said

Three days ago, I told him the store would be open that next day.

but if we are specifying a date, then it removes the ambiguity.

Three days ago, I told him the store would be open on the 28rd (it currently is the 30th and told happened on the 27th, for example).

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From what I know, it is not correct to deal with the future in the past tense unless it is something someone said:

"The doors of our English school will be open on January 2, 2019," we said.

What is said doesn't necessarily have to be in quotation marks; it just has to indicate that something was said, and that what they said contained something in the future tense, such as

I told him we will be open tomorrow

from the comments section. So, neither A nor B is grammatically correct, however, by rewording them, it could be correct depending on how you might reword it. As long as it indicates someone spoke, it should be correct. Unfortunately, it might not be right in every case, though because there're always exceptions to anything you think is a rule or a guideline in English.

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