Backshifting of tenses: We have discussed the deictic shifting of adverbial and PrepP time expressions in S,E,R terms. Can the same now be applied to the backshifting of verb tenses, too? Evidently, people prefer to shift as follows when speaking 'precisely':

Original sentence:  "Jane left".

Report:   either     Mary says that Jane left.

   or           Mary said that Jane had left. 

   (where, in precise speech, both are preferred to Mary said that Jane left.)

Original sentence:  "I will do it."

Report:  either     He says (that) he'll do it.

                      or           He said (that) he'd do it.

                      (where, in precise speech, both are preferred to He said (that) he'll do it.)

Can this preference be modeled according to a general principle of shifting within S,E,R? That is, what is happening when we backshift? Why would we disprefer a report that does not utilize backshifting? Can we apply Fillmore here (or the somewhat more precise formulation of Reichenbach)?

  • disprefer? prefer x over y. The past perfect implies something else occurred. And it might not even be stated in the sentence but it could be part of the general context.
    – Lambie
    Feb 11, 2021 at 21:26
  • ell.stackexchange.com/questions/223176/… Does that answer your question?
    – Lambie
    Feb 11, 2021 at 21:28
  • 1
    This might be a better question for English Language & Usage.
    – stangdon
    Feb 11, 2021 at 21:53
  • Point of order: people do not "prefer" to backshift, and not backshifting isn't sloppy or imprecise - the decision to backshift or not is conscious and depends on how the report relates to your timeframe. If a friend has just called you to say he arrived, you can - should! - say He said he's here, not ?He said he was here to the rest of the table. Feb 12, 2021 at 2:32
  • Other than that... I know some of those words. Probably a better fit for ELU, maybe Linguistics? Feb 12, 2021 at 2:33


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