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Incident which happened a week ago:

Me to Kate: "Where are you going"?
Kate: "I'm going to the cinema".

Now today I happen to tell this story to Jim and I say,

"I met Kate a week ago."
Jim: What did she say?
Me: "Kate said that she 'is' going to the cinema".

My question is, is the usage of 'is' grammatically correct? Here, at the time of reporting after a week I don't know if she's still going to the cinema or not and even then I use 'is' will this be grammatically correct?

marked as duplicate by Alan Carmack, Nathan Tuggy, Em., Peter, Glorfindel Aug 26 '16 at 19:11

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    Kate said that she was going to the cinema. Yes, it's correct. The 'said' takes care of the past tense and 'was going' takes care of the continuous tense in past. – Maulik V Oct 13 '15 at 5:14
  • @Maulik V : Thanks for your reply. Indeed 'was' is correct. But I was interested in asking if 'is' is grammatically correct. – iamRR Oct 13 '15 at 5:21
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    No, 'is' is not correct here. It must be was. – Mamta D Oct 13 '15 at 5:22
  • @Maulik V : You see, I've already put 'said' which is in the past tense, so even if I use 'is' the listener would automatically understand the meaning that it refers to the past. Isn't it ? – iamRR Oct 13 '15 at 5:26
  • @Mamta D : Some say that if the reported speech is made shortly then the present tense can be retained. I guess a week is not a long time and had it been couple of months or a year then it should be 'was' undoubtedly. So, doesn't that make 'is' correct ? – iamRR Oct 13 '15 at 5:32
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No! 'is' is not correct in that sentence because it has been a week. So, in such context, the passive construction should be...

Kate said that she was going to the cinema.


However, 'is' is possible. But for that you need to bring that event a very close to now.

Say, it's 1700 hr and Kate says that she is going to some cinema and she went. Now, I'm searching for Kate and come to you at 1705 hr. So, the scene here is...

Hey, where's Kate; do you know what's her plan? ~ Ah, she was right here. I don't know her plan but she said that she is going to some cinema. Go catch her, she must be downstairs (in parking).

  • I fail to see how the 17 vs 17.05 example can be cited when he has clearly mentioned a week. Even in his comment, he mentions week. A week is a long time and "is" cannot be valid there. – Mamta D Oct 13 '15 at 5:57
  • Okay, a vertical line put as an additional information addressing the comment in which the OP considers a week back as very near past and month/year a distant. – Maulik V Oct 13 '15 at 6:10
  • I don't think adding a vertical line solves the matter. You wouldn't be able to say something like "Go catch her, she must be downstairs (in parking)" if it was a week. You would only say "she said that she was going to the cinema". It wouldn't take a week to reach the cinema hall. – Mamta D Oct 13 '15 at 6:14
  • @MamtaD the content below the vertical line says ''is'' is possible and then I built a story. The 'week's' story ends above the line! – Maulik V Oct 13 '15 at 6:16
  • @Maulik V : But some say that there is no rule when to switch from present tense to past tense in indirect speech. And if that's the case then sentence, "Kate said that he is going to the cinema". should be grammatically correct even if the incident had happened 'a week' ago. What would you say ? – iamRR Oct 13 '15 at 14:51
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As commented by Maulik, it should be "was". You don't backshift in indirect speech if the statement is still true, that is, the event stated hasn't happened yet.

The statement clearly shows that you asked Kate where she was going at the time of speaking, not in the future. I think you are talking about an action that is no more up to date; it has already happened. So backshift is required by putting was instead of is.

  • backshift, not bachsift. Pretty sure, Bach must be turning around in his grave ;) – Mamta D Oct 13 '15 at 6:01
  • @Khan : You say that 'is' is not possible but if that's the case then why do some advise that there is no such rule which tense to use in indirect speech, which tense not to use ? – iamRR Oct 14 '15 at 6:40
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This is a case of Indirect and Direct Speech.

It is a rule that whenever the reporting verb is a past tense, the tense of the verb in the reported speech must be changed to the past tense.

Rule - The Present Tense (in the reporting speech) must be changed to corresponding past form ( it doesn't matter if it happened yesterday, a week ago, or in 100BC).

Example:

Direct: He said, "John will come." (Present)

Indirect: He said that John would come. (Past)


Direct: He said, "John is coming." (Present Cont.)

Indirect: He said that John was coming. (Past Cont.)


Direct: He said, "John has come." (Present Perfect)

Indirect: He said that John had come. (Past Perfect)


The use of is is definitely ungrammatical. Note that she went to the cinema last week, not this week. When you met Kate last week, she was going to the cinema. Now, when you are reporting what happened in the past, you are not reporting the present state of her action going to the cinema; you are reporting what had happened last week when you talked to her.

Kate: I am going to the cinema.(present continuous)

It means that she was going to the cinema at the time of her speaking.

Me: Kate said that she was going to the cinema.(Past continuous)

The reporting verb is is changed to the corresponding past form was

More on Direct and Indirect speech rules here

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The rule is this:

If you think what you are reporting is not still true, you must backshift. But if you think what you are reporting is still true, you can (but don't have to) retain the present tense.

Me to Kate: "Where are you going?"
Kate: "I'm going to the cinema."

In this example, you are asking what Kate is doing right now, at the moment of speaking.

When you report this a week later, you must backshift if you think it is no longer true. Since "going to the cinema" usually takes minutes or hours (at most) to do, most of the time it is not still going to be true a week later. Thus, in this case, you would backshift:

She said she was going to the cinema.

However, if you think that the event is still true when you report it a week later, you can (but are not required) to retain the present tense:

She said she is going to the cinema.

It doesn't matter why you think this is still true, but if you do, you can use the present tense. And in the case of someone on the way to the cinema, it's not likely that a week later you would think Kate was still on her way to the cinema; but I am just answering your question using your dialog and time frame.

You know that Kate was going to a cinema that takes more than a week to get to. I know this is unlikely, but perhaps she was on her way to a foreign city and the main thing she wanted to do there was go to that city's world famous cinema. She could certainly report her trip as "going to the cinema." And it would still be true if you knew she had not gotten there yet but was still on her way. Maybe it takes 10 days to get to this foreign city. Maybe it takes 1 day, but the cinema was not scheduled to open until after she reached the city. Whatever the case, you can use is if you think what you are reporting is still true when you report it.

So, to answer the specific question:

Here, at the time of reporting after a week I don't know if she's still going to the cinema or not and even then I use 'is' will this be grammatically correct?

No, it will not be. It will only be grammatically correct if you know that she's still going to the cinema.

  • A drive-by DV to a perfectly good answer. Gotta love this site! – Alan Carmack Jun 3 '16 at 22:30

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