One other tense question

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Here’s what I read in a Yahoo article today:

“Meanwhile, a second team was preparing to leave on a Libyan C-130 cargo plane from Tripoli to Benghazi when Hicks said he learned from the Libyan prime minister that Stevens was dead.”
http://news.yahoo.com/diplomat-us-team-stopped-going-benghazi-212327859.html

Now, as a native and educated (American) English speaker, I would have read this as perfectly fine and accurate, that is until I read the darn “5 Lessons for Mixing Past and
Present Tense” article (http://www.dailywritingtips.com/5-lessons-for-mixing-past-and-present-tense/). 

Part of me says it should be written as follows, with the tense change in CAPITALS:
“Meanwhile, a second team was preparing to leave on a Libyan C-130 cargo plane from Tripoli to Benghazi when Hicks said he learned from the Libyan prime minister that Stevens IS dead.”

Should it not be “is” as opposed to “was"? But, with "is" used, it sound a bit off.  However, if you use "was," doesn't it sound as if he is no longer dead (or that it he was possibly mistaken to be dead)?  Or perhaps, instead of saying "is" or "was," "had been killed" would sound better in the sentence?

Because I continue to question myself, I wish I did not read the “5 Lessons” article.  I wrote other questions about my sudden issue with tenses previously, and I appreciate the responses, but a response to this inquiry will hopefully put an end to this English-writing crisis of mine--I'm very frustrated about this, suffice it to say.

tenses edited May 06 '13 at 23:45 Heather New member

1 answer


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I think the Yahoo article is sloppy writing -- for the very reasons you note. Frankly, journalism is not a hotbed of clear, concise English writing. And Internet journalism, which has totally eschewed the necessary roles of editor and copy editor, is dismal.

 

I would have ended the sentence with "... that Stevens had died" or "had been killed." No confusion there.

 

(As an aside, when Chris Stevens was a freshman at UC Berkeley, I was a graduate Teaching Assistant for one of his classes.) 

link answered May 07 '13 at 03:18 Jeff Pribyl Grammarly Fellow

Jeff, you know of good reading material that is available online and stays current on the issues affecting the world/news? Mandatory criterion: It has to incorporate non-sloppy writing. I believe I have to read what reinforces correct writing, even at the expense of going against the sloppy style of journalism writing.

Awesome about your connection with the guy, lol. Hey, I'm going to refer a friend of mine to this site; he's just as 'obsessed' about writing correctly as I am. Jeff, do you have your own site? It's so great of you to lend your expertise here!

HeatherMay 07 '13 at 06:54

Most writing under deadline pressure is sloppy, especially as most daily or weekly publications are eliminating copy editors.The best edited publication today is probably The New Yorker. They are obsessive about proper grammar. Other well-edited (but not perfect) are the Economist, Vanity Fair, and Atlantic Monthly.Writing and grammar is only a hobby. In real life, I am an Architect who specializes in Science & Technology facilities for Higher Education, Government, and Health Care.

Jeff PribylMay 07 '13 at 20:19

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