How does this sentence have past tense and adverb tomorrow at once?

You said the finals started tomorrow.
(The Cambridge Grammar
of the English Language, p29)

Preterit tense and tomorrow are mixed in the subordinate clause. Does it mean that the finals do not start yet at the speech time? And the started’s reference time is not speech time but the time of ‘you said’?


You have this exactly right.

Expressions like tomorrow, yesterday, today, tonight, last week, next week and so forth are always understood with reference to Speech Time. If you want to use them with reference to another time, past or present, you must “translate” them:

today ........ > that day or the same day
tomorrow ..... > the next day or the following day
last week .... > the week before or the previous week

But the tense of verbs in subordinate clauses representing indirect speech is usually cast with respect to the Reference Time established in the main clause:

He tells me that finals have started already.
He told me that finals had started already.

When the reported speech describes to an event which lies in the future with respect to both Speech Time and Reference Time, this can lead to just such oddities as you observe. But the meaning is usually pretty clear from context.

You said the finals started tomorrow, but Jane just told me they’ve already started. So I’m going to flunk out and spend my life flipping burgers in McDonalds and it’s all your fault, you incorrigible imbecile!

But in formal writing you should be careful to align your tenses and time references to avoid such whimsical incongruities:

July 1, 20–
Dear Prof. Huddleston:
I crave your forgiveness for missing my final exam yesterday (June 30). As you may see from the enclosed printed schedule, I was told by the Dean’s office that it was scheduled for tomorrow, July 2. Is there any possibility of a make-up?

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