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Aligning tenses in English: what Russian-speakers often make mistakes

One of the most controversial topics in the English language is the alignment of times, writes Stanislav Inyashkin on his channel at Yandex Zen. Next - from the first person.

Photo: Shutterstock

Tasks on this topic, as a rule, consist in converting direct speech into indirect speech. In this case, it is necessary to make some changes: all tenses “leave” back, WILL changes to WOULD, HERE to THERE, TOMORROW to THE NEXT DAY, etc.

For example, from He said: There IS a book HERE, you need to do He said there WAS a book THERE. But the reality is that the coordination of times in the form in which it is described in textbooks does not exist. Nothing changes for anything.

The Russian language will help us to verify this. Imagine that you have to complete a similar task.

He said, "HERE IS THE BOOK."

Will it automatically become “He said there was a book THERE”? Of course not. It all depends on the situation: when he said it, where the book is now, etc. In English, everything is similar: if the book is still in the same place - IS, it is no longer there - WAS.

It is also obvious that HERE does not change to THERE. These are two different words, and their choice depends solely on the situation. For example, if you say, "My friends and I met in the park and agreed to meet THERE again." Where will you meet? In the park (where agreed). And if you say: “We agreed to meet HERE”. Where will you meet? In the place where you are now and are reading this article.

The situation is absolutely the same with WILL and WOULD.

Many believe that when the times are agreed, WILL (Future Simple) changes to WOULD (Future-in-the-past). But in fact, these are TWO DIFFERENT future tenses. English is extremely logical, unlike Russian.

For example, from the sentence “My friend said he would help me,” it is not clear whether a friend has already helped me or not yet. Why? In Russian, the forms of the future tense mean "what will happen after." But after what? What is the starting point? This moment (moment of speech)? Or the moment when this promise was made? The Russian language does not provide answers to these questions.

On the subject: Mistakes in English that Russians do without realizing it

Everything is clear in English. My friend said he would help me and My friend said he will help me are two different sentences:

My friend said he would help me is a past tense context. I'm just paraphrasing my friend's words. Most likely, he has already helped me, or his promise is no longer relevant.

My friend said he will help me is a present tense context. His promise is still valid, and I am waiting for his help.

Remember the rule that the laws of nature do not change when the times are coordinated? For example, "The teacher said that the Earth IS round" - The teacher said that the Earth IS round (not WAS). This was called "inconsistency of times" or "exclusion from the coordination of times" and was explained by the fact that this information was relevant at the time of the teacher's speech, and remains relevant to this day.

But this rule extends not only to the laws of nature. Thus, if I am still waiting for my friend's help and his words are still relevant, then we say exactly My friend said he WILL help me.

Original column published on the blog. Stanislav Inyashkina at Yandex Zen.

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