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I found it in a Grammar quiz online which I forget where it is:

Mr Jones ____ at the meeting, but he had to cancel because of his illness.

a) was speaking

b) was to speak

c) was to have spoken

The answer is c, and I am Ok with it, but I don't know why b isn't. Can't I say someone was to do something, but he could't somehow?

  • Infinitives don't specify the tense of the verb. – Alejandro Feb 28 '16 at 19:26
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B and c are both fine. The difference is not in the circumstances described: as with most uses of the perfect, the difference is in how the speaker is choosing to refer to the events. In c) the temporal focus is after the meeting; in b) the temporal focus is not specified - might be now, or might be just before the meeting.

  • Answer a) ticks my ears. Can't it be used? – Alejandro Feb 28 '16 at 19:27
  • @Ustanak How can you be speaking and cancel your speech at the same time? Without other context, "cancel" is assumed to refer to the speech. – user3169 Feb 28 '16 at 21:16
  • Actually, now I think of it, I can image a) being used. I can say "I'm speaking at the meeting tomorrow" because I intend to, not knowing whether something might cause this not to happen. In the same way, if the temporal focus is before he got ill, I might say "He was speaking at the meeting" in the same sense. – Colin Fine Feb 28 '16 at 21:42
  • @user3169 Oh, I must've been tripped. That's right. – Alejandro Feb 28 '16 at 22:16
  • @ColinFine Then my gut feeling was right. However, is it acceptable to use a) anyway? – Alejandro Feb 29 '16 at 1:05

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