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For indirect speech with introductory sentences in simple past, there's a backshift in time:

Peter: “The sky is blue.”

Peter said the sky was blue.

Now, I want to quote a general idea/thought using indirect speech, but I also want to distance myself from it. Would it be appropriate to make a backshift in time even though the introductory sentence is not in simple past?

“Unlimited freedom of speech abets hate.”

It is often claimed that unlimited freedom of speech abetted hate.

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    It sounds odd to me. It might give the impression that the statement (Unlimited freedom of speech abets hate) was true in the past but is no longer true. There are many better ways to distance yourself from a claim; why do you want to do it this way?
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 15:07
  • In my mother tongue German we use the “Konjunktiv” (a verb mood that sometimes resembles simple past) for indirect speech. What might be a fitting alternative?
    – Pixelcode
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 15:18
  • Backshift is normally applied only when the reporting verb is in the past tense. In any case, your introductory text "It is often claimed..." is in itself a kind of distancing. I would use the present tense here.
    – Shoe
    Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 15:44
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    You don't need to backshift if the statement is still true/always true. Commented Jun 7, 2022 at 15:57

1 Answer 1

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It would be unusual to make a backshift in time in this case. Since the statement you are discussing is one that is presented as a universal truth, (in particular one that is presented as true now), it is best in the interest of clarity to remain in the present tense. Specifically:

To my ear, the sentence

It is often claimed that unlimited freedom of speech abetted hate.

means

Many people claim that, at some time in the past, the lack of limits on the freedom of speech abetted hate.

Whereas you want to say

Many people claim that, now and always, a lack of limits on the freedom of speech abets hate.

The stock phrase "it is often claimed," which both uses the passive voice and avoids direct reference to the people making the claim, is already distancing enough.

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