Modal Agreement

Maintain timing relationships with embedded clauses

iphone
 

 

Backshifting in a subordinated clause

MAIN CLAUSE SECOND CLAUSE
BE FUTURE EVENT

Investors were excited about something.

Apple will offer stock dividends.

SAID FUTURE EVENT

The company said something.

It will make their system software available.

WISHED FUTURE EVENT

Investors wished something.

It will succeed.

HAD FUTURE EVENT

No one had any idea about result.

It will expand the use of the device.

STARTED FUTURE EVENT

Apple started advertising something to young people.

They believed will buy their iPhones and iPods.

OPENED FUTURE EVENT

Apple opened its iPhone software to developers.

There will be more applications available.

IF…HADN'T MADE FUTURE OCCURENCE

Apple had not made their  application software available. (hypothetically speaking)

there will not be such amazing application development!

MAIN CLAUSE SUBORDINATED CLAUSE
WAS THAT + BACKSHIFTED VERB

Investors were excited

that  Apple would offer stock dividends.

SAID THAT +BACKSHIFTED VERB

The company said

that it would make their system software available.

WISHED THAT +BACKSHIFTED VERB

Investors wished

that it would succeed.

HAD HOW +BACKSHIFTED VERB

No one had any idea

how that would expand the use of the device.

STARTED WHO +BACKSHIFTED VERB

Apple started advertising to young people

who they believed would buy their iPhones and iPods.

OPENED THAT +BACKSHIFTED VERB

Apple opened its iPhone software to developers so

that there would be more applications available.

IF…HADN'T MADE THEN +BACKSHIFTED VERB

If Apple had not made their  application software available,

then there would not be such amazing application development!      

 

backshift (v./n.) – in grammar, a verb in a subordinate (dependent clause) is put into the time frame of the verb of the main clause. See deixis — adjusting perspective.
device – a small piece of equipment; an iPhone is a hand-held device.

Also see Who / Whom,   That / Which,   When/ Where

 

 

 

 

 

 

Verb Agreement

Backshifting Verbs

 

 

 

Backshifting Verbs – Past

INDEPENDENT TIME FRAMES

When reporting an activity or event, the verb in the "reporting" clause may differ from the time of the action being reported. The temporal (time) relationship of the two activities is maintained when joining clauses. 

CLAUSE 1 CLAUSE 2

Jill is complaining

She has a lot of  email this week.

Jill says (something).

She will have a lot of  email next week.

Jill tells me (something).

She had a lot of  email last week.

 

She has had a lot of email this month.
 

ADJUSTED TIME FRAMES

The tense of the verb in the main clause governs the tense of the verb in the subordinated clause. That is, the verb tense in the subordinated clause is backshifted to an earlier time to maintain the order in which the actions happened.

MAIN CLAUSE – PAST SUB CLS –  BACKSHIFTED

Jill was complaining

that she had a lot of email that week.

 

that she would have a lot of email that week.

 

that she had had a lot of email that week.

 

that she had had a lot of email that month.

 

reporting verbs – say, tell, add, etc. See Said Synonyms
time frame – a specific period of time
backshift – adjusting (changing) the time to maintain order in which events happened

 

 

 

 

Backshifting Verbs – Present and Future

INDEPENDENT TIME FRAMES

In informal writing or conversation, the present or future tense in a subordinated clause is not backshifted.  This is especially common for statements of general truth.

MAIN CLAUSE – PAST PRESENT / FUTURE

Jill was glad to hear

that she gets  two weeks of vacation.

 

that she will get  two weeks of vacation.  

Jill warned us

that rumors travel fast.
(general truth)  

ADJUSTED TIME FRAMES

In formal writing and reporting, the present or future tense in a subordinated clause is backshifted even if it is fact or general truth. (Would is not used with "general truths".)

MAIN CLAUSE – PAST SUB CLS – BACKSHIFTED

Jill was glad to hear that

she got two weeks of vacation.

 

she would get two weeks of vacation.

Jill warned us

that rumors traveled fast.   (general truth)

 

traveled (US-Eng);  travelled (Br-Eng)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Modal Agreement

Backshifting Modals

 

 

 

Backshifting modals in subordinated clauses

PRESENT

Modals can be problematic when shifting to the preterit (past) because some modals have one meaning in the present form and another in the past.  In fact, some modals do not have a preterit form.

MAIN CLAUSE – PRESENT SUBORD CLS – MODAL

Jill knows that…

we will get there on time.

 

we may get there on time.

 

we might get there on time.

 

we can get there on time.

 

we should get there on time.

 

 

 

we must get there on time.

 

we have to get there on time.

PAST

Modals will, can, and may have preterit forms as shown below.  The modals would, should, could, might and must do not. (Do not use would have, could have, should have or must have as backshifted forms.)

MAIN CLAUSE – PAST SUB CLS – BACKSHIFTED

Jill knew that…

we would get there on time.

 

we might get there on time.

 

*we might have gotten there on time.

 

we could get there on time.

 

*we should have gotten there on time.

 

we should get there on time.

 

*we must have gotten there on time.

 

we had to get there on time.

 

preterit – a verb form; past – a tense, a time-frame

get there – arrive there

*should have gotten – The past shifts meaning from a future obligation to a failed one.

*must have gotten – The past form shifts meaning from a past obligation to a conclusion.

 

 

 

Links to Modal Usage

DEGREE OF POSSIBILITY TO ACT DEGREE OF OBLIGATION/ FREEDOM TO ACT

possibility, future intent

possibility, permission

possibility, ability, potential

obligation, expectation

obligation, inference

will  / be going to

may 

can

shall

must

would

might

could / could

should

(had to)

would have

might have

could have

should have

must have 

A speaker uses a modal to express (1) the likelihood (possibility) of something happening or (2) the degree of obligation or freedom one has to act.  (Swan 327)

inference – conclusion; making  a guess by putting pieces of information together
Use the navigation bar at the top of the page to explore the various meaning of these modals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Modal Backshifting

After said that and wish that

 

 

 

Said that – reported speech

REPORTED SPEECH–PRESENT

The verb tense in quoted speech reflects the time at the moment of speaking. After a present tense 'reporting verb', the verb in the reported-speech clause is the same as the verb tense in the quote.

MAIN CLS – PRES SUBORD CLS – BACKSHIFTED

Apple says

they are releasing a new iPhone".

"We are releasing a new..."

The CEO says

it is going to have several new features.

"We are going to offer several..."

The designer says

the new battery will last longer.

"The new battery will last..."

REPORTED SPEECH–PAST

After a past tense 'reporting verb', the verb in the reported-speech clause is the changed to its past form. If the verb in the quoted speech is already past, then it changes to the past perfect form.

MAIN CLS – PAST SUBORD CLS – BACKSHIFTED

Apple said

they would be releasing a new iPhone.

The CEO said

it would have¹ several new features.

it was going to have several...

The designer said

the new battery would last longer.move over

 

¹A speaker is likely to switch to would have because It was going to have may be understood as a failed attempt.

 

 

 

Wish that  – true and hypothetical contexts

PRESENT

A verb such as wish affects the meaning of the verb in the subordinated clause. For true situations, the verb is backshifted to adjust to the time frame of the wish. Also see wish in Imperative clauses and before Infinitive clauses.      

MAIN CLS – PRES SUBORD CLAUSE

Jill wishes

*that we (will) get there on time.
(a desire, a command, future)

  

that we would get there on time.
(an unlikely future possibility)

 

that we would have gotten there on time.
(a failed possibility, no longer possible)

PAST

For hypothetical situations, the preterit has another use called irrealis.  See Wishes.  (I wish he were here.  I wished he had been here.) The action in the subordinated clause (marked with a preterit verb form) did not happen. It is imagined.

MAIN CLS – PAST SUBORD CLS – BACKSHIFTED

Jill wished

that we would get there on time.
(desired: we may or may not have been on time)

 

that we would have gotten there on time.
(irrealis:  She's upset, we failed, perhaps, were unwilling to try)

 

that we had gotten there on time.
(irrealis:  She's upset, we failed, perhaps, were unwilling to try)

 

* an imperative verb, plain form, is used after wish (a command).

* Wish — would have gotten – See Lost Opportunity v. Upset

Also see Mixed Tenses: hypothetical situations in mixed time frames

 

 

 

 

 

Modal Backshifting

In other subordinate clauses

 

 

 

Which, that, who in modifying clauses

PAST TENSE

In 1984, the movie industry tried to block Sony from selling VCRs,

The music industry had no idea

The music industry never predicted

BACKSHIFT

which it thought would decrease movie attendance .

that technology would proceed so rapidly.

who would be able to pirate music files so easily.
 

 

 

 

 

So that in cause-effect statements

PAST TENSE

The verb in a clause following so that and because backshifts to adjust to the time frame of the verb in the main clause.

Apple released a new operating system

*People with older phones were going to update their phones

More people would want to upgrade their phones

BACKSHIFT

*In a cause-effect statement, speakers tend to vary their use of will/would and be going to. That is, if the first clause includes was going to , the speaker will shift to would in the second clause.

so that it would correct security .

so that they would be able to take  advantage of new features.

because new features were going to get even better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Traditional and Linguistic Description

Advanced

 

 

Traditional and Linguistic Description

TRADITIONAL DESCRIPTION LINGUISTIC DESCRIPTION

"Reported speech refers to using a noun clause to report what someone has said.  No quotation marks are used.  If the reporting verb (the main verb of the sentence, e.g., said) is simple past, the verb in the noun clause will usually also be a past form…" (Azar 12-7)

Also  see Past Perfect  (Azar 3-5)

The backshifted preterit
Conditions for a backshifted preterit can occur with either of the following conditions: (1) The tense of the matrix (main) clause is past; (2) The time of the matrix clause situation is past (or present perfect.) 

She said, "I have too many commitments. →  She said she had too many commitments.   She has never said she had too many commitments.

Backshifting an original preterit.
She said, "I had too many commitments." or She said, "I have had too many commitments."  → She said that she had had too many commitments

(Huddleston 3 §6.2.1)

In indirect speech, a speaker's past tenses are often reported using past perfect tenses.

The modals would, should, could, might, ought and must are usually unchanged after past reporting verbs in indirect speech. This is also true of needn't and had better.

(Swan 278.3)

Past tense in reported speech
Past tense also has a common special use, when it is backshifted from the present in reported speech or thought. That is, reports of earlier speech or thought can be given in the past tense, when the original quote (in the case of speech) was presumably in the present tense.

Reported Speech: A girl at work said she worked at Woolworths. (
Direct Speech: "I work at Woolworths."

(Biber 6.2.1.2)

 

 

Resources

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

"The Missing Manual"

the missing manual
 

 

Decide whether to adjust the verb (or modal) to the time-frame of the verb in the main clause.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or the "Check 1-10" button.

 

1.

2.
I asked him, "Can you tell me what manual are you talking about?"


3.
He said, "You know, the one that comes with kids when they are born."


4.
I asked him, "Are you kidding me?"


5.
how to get you to function correctly."

6.
with their own personal instruction manual.

7.
"I say this because I can't understand why you do the things you do!"
my behavior.

8.
I replied, "If I can't make mistakes, how will I learn?"


9.

10.
" I'll go  look online for it. Maybe, there's a copy somewhere," I replied.

online for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

"The Exam Nightmare"lost in class nightmare

 

 

Read the Context

I have a reoccurring nightmare.  I dream that I am walking into a class where everyone is sitting and ready to begin an exam. I ask someone so that I can find out what the exam is about.  The students cannot answer because it is a test — their lips are sealed. I remember a teacher saying, "There will be a test on Friday."  I hear him speaking, but I can't hear what the test subject is. I think to myself, "If there is a test, shouldn't I know what it will be on?" 

I take my seat and pull out a pencil.  The teacher, who is smiling like the Cheshire cat, hands me a test page.  The test question is "What is this test about?"  I think to myself, "This is crazy. Shouldn't the question tell me what the test is about? Am I supposed to make up my own test question?"  I look around and see that everyone else will be finishing soon. I wonder, "What can I do besides watch the clock going tick tock." Then my alarm clock rings. "Do I have a test today?"

Cheshire Cat – the cat known for his mischievous grin in Alice and Wonderland

nightmare (n.) – very unpleasant dream

sealed (adj.) – closed tightly

test (general term) – quiz (not so important) exam (more important)

 

 

 

Change the paragraph above to the past tense.

  1. Edit the sentence(s) in the text box.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or the "Check 11-20" button.

 

11.
I dream that I am walking into a class where everyone is sitting and ready to begin an exam.


12.
I ask someone so that I can find out what the exam is about. 


13.
The students cannot answer because it is a test — their lips are sealed.


14.
I remember a teacher saying, "There will be a test on Friday."


15.
I hear him speaking, but I can't hear what the test subject is.


16.
"If there is a test, shouldn't I know what it will be on?"


17.
I think to myself, "This is crazy. Shouldn't the question tell me what the test is about?"


18.
Am I supposed to make up my own test question?


19.
I look around and see that everyone else will be finishing soon.


20.
I wonder, "What can I do besides watch the clock going tick tock."