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  1. Hello,

    First of all, my apologies if I’m leaving this comment in the wrong section. I work for a small publication that’s recently hired a new editor, and there’s a edit that this guy has been making in all the copy to come across his desk that’s been perplexing me. In any sentence of reported speech that identifies the speaker in an independent clause set off by a comma or commas, he insists that every verb in the sentence has to be in past or past conditional tense (to match the “said” in the clause). This logic gives you sentences like the following:

    – The new law would go into effect next week, she said.
    – Bill Gates, Forbes Magazine announced today, was currently America’s richest man.
    – Google would need approval from the US government to set up its planned mobile phone service, a government spokesman said yesterday.

    I feel that these sentences should read “will go into effect”, “is currently America’s richest man”, and “will need approval”. In a sentence without the commas, you of course do need to match the tenses (“She said that the new law would go into effect next week”), but that kind of sentence seems distinct to me from the ones I listed above.

    I’ve been doing some Googling to try and back up this point, but I’m having trouble finding a rigorous theoretical explanation for why this should be so. Is there a rule that governs verb tense in these sorts of sentences?

    Thanks very much for your attention – please send me an email if you’re able to respond.

    Best,
    James

  2. James,

    When the action is considered to be generally true, the verbs remain in the present tense.

    A sentence such as “In Maine, there are four tides each day, he said” would be an example. Another would be “Kohelet wrote that there is nothing new under the Sun”

    In your examples, the back-shift occurs because these are specific incidents, current events, not statements held to be generally true.

    Read below:

    I had a reader write me last week and she said that she loved my blog.

    In the context, we understand that she loved my blog last week and, I certainly hope, still loves my blog (until further notice)!

    There are sometimes fine lines to be drawn where the writer may have some choice as to whether or not to use back-shift. But the examples you gave are all regarding specific events, and are not statements concerning general conditions or laws of science or human behavior, etc.

    By the way, the correct grammar would be “there’s an edit”.

    I hope that helps.

    Jane

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