If I'm talking about the future-in-past, do I always need to put the verb be in the past (was) even if this future is still in the future relative to the time of utterance?

Here is the situation: I spoke to a friend on June 1, he invited me to dinner on June 3; now it is June 2, and I'm saying:

He invited me for dinner, but I told him I was out of town on June 3 / tomorrow.

Would am be appropriate here ("I am out of town"), taking into account that June 3 is tomorrow?

I know that this form is possible in this situation:

He invited me for dinner, but I told him I would / will be out of town.

2 Answers 2


The construction with would is probably the one most frequently used here, and that with will next, but the others are all acceptable. At a guess I'd say was is probably the least frequently used, followed by am and will be. That reflects the relative infrequency of simple present in non-backshifted use.

It is not entirely irrelevant that all of these except was can be contracted, and probably would be in conversation.

He invited me for dinner, but I told him   I'm    out of town tomorrow.
He invited me for dinner, but I told him  I'll be   out of town tomorrow.
He invited me for dinner, but I told him  I'd be  out of town on tomorrow.

Among other things, that has the effect of backgrounding the verb and throwing the focus onto out of town. In conversation, nobody's going to notice the difference.

FumbleFingers points out that there's another option, constructions with BE going to be:

... I told him I was going to be out of town tomorrow.
... I told him I'm going to be out of town tomorrow.

These two are, I'd guess, on the upper end of the frequency scale.

FumbleFingers also points out that I was is often elided in speech. He implies that the British elision is /aɪz/; in US speech it is /'aɪ(j)əz/ or (in my dialect) /'aəz/. But this is not an "officially approved" contraction; when it's spelled out in writing (typically as "I uz") it is an "eye dialect" form which imputes illiteracy to the speaker.

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    Maybe my speech is a bit more sloppy than yours - I'm quite capable of contracting I was to I's. And I suspect Americans in general may do this more than Brits. Jun 28, 2013 at 1:13
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    ...if I actually used I's in OP's context, I'd imagine it as short for "...but I told him  I's [gonna be]   out of town tomorrow". That seems to me a reasonable compromise on the tense/mood I'd be looking for. Jun 28, 2013 at 1:18
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    @FumbleFingers In my experience, we elide the /w/ but not the vowel, so it's not heard as a contraction. (But the vowel is less clearly marked in Southern dialects like mine, because "I" is monophthongal /a/, not a dipthong, so there's no /j/-glide.) And if we spell it out as eye dialect, it's "uz", never "I's", which is the contraction of "I is", once a stock illiteracy invariably attributed to the Stage Negro and Stage Hillbilly. Jun 28, 2013 at 1:41

In the Great Lakes area where I grew up, I don't remember hearing anything but "I was". The closest we got to an elision was sort of a very fast "awuz". As I recall the w was never fully elided.

Also, I lived in England for two years as a teenager and developed a perfect "blue collar" accent. As I recall our "I was" often dropped the w, as in "oiuz" ("Oiuz there too, wunni"?)

So, @FumbleFingers, my experience differs from your suspicion: when I was American, I didn't elide the w, and when I was a Brit, I did.

As an aside, I have the rather unique experience of being an American who knows exactly what an American sounds like to a Brit, and I don't blame them for making fun of us. :)

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