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Questions:

Q1:

When using a first real conditional in a reported speech, it has to be backshifted. But I don't know whether to use: was or were?

Q2:

Are the tenses of the italic words (met and went) in Example 1 and Example 2 correct?

Examples:

Example 1:

If he is friendly when we meet tomorrow, I will make friends with him.

I thought if he was/were friendly when we met the next day, I would make friends with him.

(I am describing my thoughts in advance of the meeting that is now in the past.)

Example 2:

If he is doing his work when I go to his place, I will visit next time.

I thought if he was/were doing his work when I went to his place, I would visit him next time.

(I am describing my thoughts in advance of the visit that is now in the past.)

1 Answer 1

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  1. I think that, to be strictly correct, you should use were, but was would be acceptable in colloquial speech.

  2. It depends whether the event you are thinking about has happened or not. Are you describing your thoughts in advance of a meeting that is now in the past, or speculating about a future event?

Neither sentence is quite idiomatic. I suggest ...I would visit him another time (when he is not busy).

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  • English teachers at American schools have been known to mark various hypothetical uses of was as “wrong”, saying that it “should” be were. But as a Brit, I think those teachers are simply wrong. You might as well claim that in order to be "strictly correct", the text should be expanded to I thought if he were to be doing his work when.... But again, this isn't true. As with most contexts where people ask about Past Perfect / Simple Past here, it's often "possible" - but rarely necessary - to use such more complex verb forms. Jul 25, 2021 at 17:28
  • My examples are my thoughts in the past. In Example 1, I hadn't met the new person yet, and I like friendly people, so at the time, I thought, "If he is friendly when we meet tomorrow, I will make friends with him." I am describing my thoughts in advance of the meeting that is now in the past. I wanted to know how to backshift it in this case. Do I have to use "were"? The backshift doesn't seem hypothetical to me. And Example 2 doesn't seem hypothetical, either.
    – vincentlin
    Jul 26, 2021 at 11:18
  • I thought that, if he was/turned out to be friendly when we met the next day, I would [hope to] make friends with him. Jul 26, 2021 at 12:08
  • @KateBunting Thank you for your reply. So, if it is a thought in the past (like the case in my previous reply), which is not hypothetical, we use "was" instead of "were", right?
    – vincentlin
    Jul 26, 2021 at 15:52
  • But (despite what Fumblefingers says) see this Ngram Jul 26, 2021 at 16:25

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