1. Don't worry, the boys are fine. Anyway, I have told them to call me if they had any problems.

Do you think the use of the remote conditional construction, marked by "had", is correct? I'm not sure, but I don't think "I" would ask anybody to do something on the basis of something that I don't expect to happen - for them to have problems. It should be:

  1. Don't worry, the boys are fine. Anyway, I have told them to call me if they have any problems. What do you think? Thanks
  • 3
    With "I've told" I would use "have". With "I told" I would use "had". Nov 30, 2022 at 4:13

2 Answers 2


There's no remote conditional here. This is open conditional, but backshifted because it's in reported speech.

The speaker originally said to the boys, "If you have any problems, call me." That's an open conditional.

The speaker then reports this in your example sentence, where they backshift the sentence. In this case, "call" becomes "to call" because if follows the reporting verb "tell", so it can't backshift at all. The simple present "have" is backshifted to "had". So it is not a remote conditional.

Your other version with "have" is also correct because backshifting in reported speech is optional when the speech being reported still applies to the current moment. It's clear from the earlier context that the situation with the boys is ongoing, so optionally not backshifting "have" is correct.

  • Thank you. I didn't realize "had" is the backshifted past tense. Now I have this question: is it possible to backshift remote conditional? Original utterance "If you have any problems, call me." What will the reported speech be?
    – ForOU
    Dec 1, 2022 at 8:28
  • @Robbyzhu They backshift in the normal ways. A google search for "backshift conditionals" should turn up lots of resources.
    – gotube
    Dec 1, 2022 at 17:56
  • If the back shift is optional, as you have stated, could "had" in OP be viewed as corresponding to the remote conditional without having been backshifted?Or is it possible only theoretically?
    – ForOU
    Dec 2, 2022 at 0:30
  • 1
    @Robbyzhu No, that couldn't be remote conditional because "call me" isn't remote. I believe remote always has a past modal in the main clause, but there isn't one here.
    – gotube
    Dec 2, 2022 at 3:43
  • Thanks again, I get it.
    – ForOU
    Dec 2, 2022 at 7:52

I wouldn't use 'I have told', just 'I told'.

That simplifies the rest - you are now considering what you told them & when.
The action was all in the past, so you could use 'had'.
However, at the moment you told them in the past, it would be the present, therefore 'have' as a future perspective would be valid.

The difference is how you feel you are reporting it. Are you reporting an entire event in the past; or recalling that, at the time you told them, it was the present?

In practise, now you have eliminated the confusing have & have/had in the same sentence, no-one would care which you used.
They wouldn't really need to differentiate between you reporting the past action from a perspective of now, or whether the entire thought was cast back to the past.

I'm no grammarian, but I can't really decide if it even is a remote conditional. It doesn't really have a condition, or I'm not seeing it. Clarification from someone smarter than me may be useful ;)

  • "if they had any problems" is a condition, no? It's backshifted reported speech from "If you have any problems, call me".
    – gotube
    Dec 1, 2022 at 3:25
  • @gotube - I did look this up & didn't get complete clarification, but I got as far as 'a remote conditional must have a modal auxiliary', which led to me finding a list of 9 of those, none of which are in the sentence. tbh, by that time I was well outside my comfort zone. Dec 1, 2022 at 7:15

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