Deictic time references are related to the speaker's perspective: in OP's sentences, will claim and will say lie in the speaker's future. Non-deictic time references are related to some other perspective: in OP's sentences, cheated is 'past' relative to the future event 'will claim', not an event in the speaker's past, and don't want is 'present' relative to the future event 'will say', not an event in the speaker's present.

The source is a comment on this answer.

The terms deictic and non-deictic in this explanation are confusing to me, so please could anyone explain it in a different way?

For me, the unclear part is the section in bold. How are the time references related and how do we know an event in the speaker's past or present?

  • Can you explain which parts of the explanation are unclear? "Explain this all over again, only so I understand it" is pretty vague. Oct 12, 2015 at 15:05
  • How they are relative and how we know an event in the speaker's past or present?
    – ram
    Oct 12, 2015 at 15:39
  • @Araucaria: Well, yes, but at that point it may be best to start over from scratch. Oct 12, 2015 at 15:41
  • If possible explain me or suggest me where I get the complete information for this?
    – ram
    Oct 12, 2015 at 15:51
  • @Araucaria It was from another question: ell.stackexchange.com/q/70197/3281, which was closed as a duplicate of yet another question: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/7473/what-is-deictic-time, which quotes a text in CGEL, and the OP seems to be reading CGEL in his own studies. I think if the OP tried reading the answer in the oldest post more carefully, they should be able to understand the basic idea of the concept. (The examples are from CGEL.) Oct 12, 2015 at 17:11

2 Answers 2


Ideally, you should read The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (CGEL) and understand the non-deictic past and the non-deictic present.

Seeing that you've posted essentially the same question several times, I will risk explaining the terms deictic time and non-deictic time myself in this (hopefully) short post. Please keep in mind that this is only meant to help you understand the subject, not to be rigorously accurate.

What is 'deictic'?

One way to understand deictic time is to understand deixis first. (I recommend reading the page after reading my answer.) But, we're going to cheat, and do it in the Hitchhiker's Guide style.

deictic (adj.): relating to the current situation

That's it! Er, maybe we should expand on that a little on "relating to the current situation". Because the best way to teach is to give the student some examples, so here goes. Imagine that you're walking in a hallway, and suddenly, you notice a small piece of paper on the floor. Being curious, you pick it up. It's a note! On the note is this message:

Meet me in my office at 6.

Whatever "xoxo" means :-), I believe that you can understand that it's a message telling someone to meet another someone in the first someone's office at 6.

But do you know who that first someone is, or was; where their office is; it was 6 in the morning, or in the evening; it was at six on what day? No, you don't. You don't even know whether the meeting has already happened or not!

That's the effect of relating to the current situation. You don't know the current situation, you don't have anything to relate to. As a result, you don't know who that was, whose office that is, or on what day the meeting would happen or will happen or is happening!

Now imagine Mindy, your colleague, handing you the same note at noon. It should be as clear as day to you that the note means:

Meet me (Mindy) in my (Mindy's) office at 6 (p.m. this evening).
xoxo (kiss-hug-kiss-hug)

What's the difference? Why is it so easy to understand the message this time?

The difference? Obviously, you now know that everything in the message is relating to the situation that Mindy was handing you the note. This time, me, my office, at 6 all are "deictic"!

What is 'deictic time' (and what is 'non-deictic time')?

The easiest way to understand this is to think of deictic time as "time relating to speaker's speaking time". Remember Mindy? When she said "at 6" or as she implied "at 6 this evening", it's a time relating to the time Mindy was speaking; "this evening" is the evening that day, the day Mindy was saying "at 6 (this evening)", not the day before, not the day after, not any other day.

Now, how can we understand non-deictic time in our Hitchhiker's style?

Let's try the two examples from CGEL quoted in our old question, What is 'deictic time'?:

[i] If she beats him he’ll claim she cheated. [non-deictic past]
[ii] If you eat any more you’ll say you don’t want any tea. [non-deictic present]

Try asking yourself, when exactly that "she cheated" would happen in [i]?

You can't answer that, right?
Now a very important question: Why? Why can't you answer that?

Because it's like a note on the floor! Try to think of [ If she beats him he'll claim ] as a piece of paper, and on that paper, there is a message "she cheated".

The time that "she cheated" isn't relating to the time the speaker is speaking [i]. And because it isn't relating to the speaking time, it happens in a non-deictic time.

[ii] is similar. The only difference is that in [i], cheated is in the past tense. What kind of past? Non-deictic past. In [ii], don't want is in the present tense. What kind? Non-deictic present! And that is pretty much all the comment you quote in your question was trying to say.

Let's wrap it up.

deictic (adj.): relating to the current situation

deictic time: a time relating to speaker's speaking time
non-deictic time: a time not directly relating to speaker's speaking time

Hope this helps!

  • 1
    Wow! Is it safe to presume that you are teaching English IRL? Or are you just great in providing explanations? Will give this answer +10 if I can. Lol. Many thanks for this! ;)
    – shin
    Oct 12, 2015 at 19:01
  • 1
    @shin Thank you for your kind message! I feel like I've gotten all the +'s already! (I've been a trainer/teacher at times, but not about English. :-) Oct 12, 2015 at 19:29

Someone says, “me”. You do not know who spoke. Thus, you do not know who “me” refers to.

That’s deixis. Thus, “me” is a deictic reference.

Deictic time is not so simple, because we all have the same “now”. However, if you find “tomorrow” written in a page that has been torn out of a diary, you do not know when this “tomorrow” is. That is deictic time.

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