I have these future in the past questions that I hope you could help me with:

1) I was wondering if you could tell me where he is now.

2) She promised we would talk about it when I come to your party tonight.

3) She promised me she would come to your party tonight/tomorrow.

4) At first we didn't know if we should approach you. But finally we thought we should let you know that there are other people out there who are agaist the act too.
_______

For the first question, I don't know if I should use "where he is now" or "where he was then". But the "where he was" sounds weird to me.

For the second question, I don't know if I should use "I come" or "I came". Formally I think I should use I came. But it sounds weird. If I choose "I came", then how about "tonight"? Should I change it to "that night"? I think this will become total meaningless.

For the third question, the main clause is in past tense. But how about "tomorrow"?

For the forth question, the thought is in the past. But the event is current. Should I stick to grammar rules to use all past tense or simply ignore the rule to change the sub clause to present tense?

And finally, I don't know which explaination is formal or informal anymore. I ask other people, some say all can be used, some say stick to the grammar rules and the sentenses above are wrong. But the English formal rules don't make sense when you speak. But if you use the informal one, that means trashing all the grammar rules away. What I am suppose to do?
Original Post
The best guide for deciding whether to backshift (change from the present tense to the past or past perfect) in the reported material is whether the idea has current validity. In the case of a situation or event that the speaker believes is valid at the time of speaking, or will be valid at a time in the future, the present tense is not only the best choice, it's usually necessary, and does not violate any grammar rules. Let's look at each sentence in turn:

1) I was wondering if you could tell me where he is now.

The utterance is about a current situation and requires the present tense and a present-time adverb in the dependent clause. It's correct and reasonable to preserve the present tense and present adverb in "where he is now." The verbs "was wondering" and "could" are in the past tense, but they're not about past time. They are examples of the past tense used for politeness in the present, which is one form of social remoteness. The backshifted "where he was then" would be totally inappropriate in this situation.

2) She promised we would talk about it when I come to your party tonight.

Again, the present tense "come" is best, since the speaker views that event as being yet to occur. Using the past tense "came" is grammatically OK, but it sounds very tentative, as if the speaker isn't at all sure about the possibility of getting to "talk about it."

3) She promised me she would come to your party tonight/tomorrow.


Both "tonight" and "tomorrow" are fine. The event is in the future, relevant to the moment of speaking, so it is currently valid. To use past time adverbs would put the whole idea prior to the moment of speaking, which is not the intent of the utterance. "Would" is OK, but "will" is also possible, if the speaker wants to make the idea of coming more vivid.

4) At first we didn't know if we should approach you. But finally we thought we should let you know that there are other people out there who are against the act too.

The fact of there being "other people" who "are against the act" at the present moment is very important, and the present tense is essential. The past tense "that there were other people who were against the act" could imply that the situation no longer holds.

There's no problem of "formal" versus "informal" usage here. It's purely a matter of how the speaker views the ideas. If the idea is about the present or future, and if it's of immediate interest, the verbs should be in the present tense, and the time adverbs should reflect the actual time of the event or situation.

Marilyn Martin

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