I've been asking a lot about backshifting of tenses for quite some time and I come across many articles/blogs where this so called rule is not always followed unlike notable grammar books.

The spokesperson said they have received a video evidence of their being "alive" as recent as September 27 and they were making all efforts to secure their release.

My question is, since the main verb is in the past tense 'said' don't you think that it should be 'had received' instead of 'have received'?

You see this is one such link. I can provide multiple links having same error (if I can call this an error). So my question is, if journalists are using such grammar then isn't it acceptable?

  • Not related to the tense, but a video evidence is not correct in standard English. – Damkerng T. Oct 8 '15 at 17:23
  • "As recent as" is also wrong. – Nathan Tuggy Oct 8 '15 at 17:48
  • Both can be construed as typos though. Removing the "a" and adding "ly" on the end of the recent gives you a perfectly valid sentence. – DRF Oct 8 '15 at 18:04
  • @DRF "As recent as" is fast becoming one of those common colloquial errors. It registers over 400k hits on Google. – user32753 Dec 14 '16 at 6:46

I suppose the answer depends on whether you consider what determines proper usage to be prescriptiveness or descriptiveness. I consider this usage incorrect, but the English language has no governing body or recognized authority (unlike many other languages), so to some extent, anything goes as long as you are understood. That said, even without considering "correctness," I personally would use the grammatically correct (as taught by books) phrasing as long as it is understood.

Similarly, in German it is now common (and perhaps accepted) to abandon the genitive case entirely and to use "von (accusative)" instead of "(genitive)." It's accepted, but I subjectively think it sounds stupid and therefore use the "correct" grammar.


Backshift after a past tense in the main clause is quite a grammar problem. A lot of grammars don't treat this point with the necessary care. An older grammar - by Curme from Barnes and Noble - gives the rule and shows many cases were this older rule is not followed. He says:

The old sequence is not infrequently disregarded to emphasize the relation of the act or state in question to the present or future.

If the author doesn't want to follow the old rule then he should say "they have received evidence" and "are making all efforts", not "have received" and "were making".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.