Is or Was?

In a recent news article I read that 'Theresa May is the worst Prime Minister of all time.' In a few years' time, if I were to refer back to this article in conversation and Theresa May is no longer Prime Minister, what would be the correct tense to use?

'I read an article that said Theresa May is the worst Prime Minister of all time'

or

'I read an article that said Theresa May was the worst Prime Minister of all time'?

I think the first one is correct because although Theresa May is no longer Prime Minister in this hypothetical situation, the article, no matter how long ago it was written, is written in the present tense, and therefore the present tense should be used when referring back to it?
This thread has nothing to do with politics, by the way, it is merely a grammatical question to which I need an answer.

Comments

  • @Mark_S, it would be quite impossible to say

    'I read an article in 2019 that said Theresa May is the worst Prime Minister of all time'

    if at the time of speaking she was not the Prime Minister.

    You could choose between is and was if you were speaking shortly after reading the article.

    • 'I read an article that said Theresa May was the worst Prime Minister of all time'
      reports what the article said.

    • 'I read an article that said Theresa May was the worst Prime Minister of all time'
      states the assertion as it applies to the present.

    The tense used in the original article is irrelevant. What matters is the TIME (not the same as tense) that you the speaker have in mind.

  • I think the general principle for sentences like this is that the assertion must be relevant at the time of speaking (or writing).

    So, when Theresa May is no longer Prime Minister, the assertion

    She is the worst Prime Minister of all time

    is no longer relevant.

    Of all time is not the same as eternity. The supposed writer of the article said that she was the worst Prime Minister In all history up to the time of his or her comment. For all we know, the same writer may — at some time in the future — consider her successor an even worse Prime Minister.

    By contrast, it doesn't sound so strange to say

    Copernicus said that the Earth goes round the Sun.

    Copernicus is no longer alive, but his assertion is a familiar one, which we know and feel to be an eternal truth.

    It would sound a bit stranger to say

    The Church said that the Sun goes round the Earth

  • I think the general principle for sentences like this is that the assertion must be relevant at the time of speaking (or writing).

    So, when Theresa May is no longer Prime Minister, the assertion

    She is the worst Prime Minister of all time

    is no longer relevant.

    Of all time is not the same as eternity. The supposed writer of the article said that she was the worst Prime Minister In all history up to the time of his or her comment. For all we know, the same writer may — at some time in the future — consider her successor an even worse Prime Minister.

    By contrast, it doesn't sound so strange to say

    Copernicus said that the Earth goes round the Sun.

    Copernicus is no longer alive, but his assertion is a familiar one, which we know and feel to be an eternal truth.

    It would sound a bit stranger to say

    The Church said that the Sun goes round the Earth

    Thank you as always, @DavidCrosbie . You never fail to have the answers to my questions!

    If I could just pose one more hypothetical to you...

    I received a letter on 1st September 2018 stating that my council tax is £500, but on 1st October I received another letter stating that my council tax is £600. If I were to write a letter of complaint about this increase, would it not be correct to say that 'on 1st September 2018 I received a letter stating that my council tax is £500' because, technically, the letter from 1st September does say that. A letter has been sent since, but the first letter did, does, and always will state that my council tax is £500, despite it having been changed since.

    Or does time always trump tense, like in my Theresa May question?
  • @Mark_S

    If I were to write a letter of complaint about this increase, would it not be correct to say that 'on 1st September 2018 I received a letter stating that my council tax is £500' because, technically, the letter from 1st September does say that.

    It would be true and accurate. It would also be grammatical. I think that's quite enough. The word correct carries the unfortunate suggestion that anything else would be incorrect.

    But it would equally true, accurate and grammatical to write

    'On 1st September 2018 I received a letter stating that my council tax was £500.'

    Now, if your letter also makes reference to the later council letter and the later figure of £600, then I think it would be rather odd to use the sentence with is £500.

  • @DavidCrosbie said:
    @Mark_S

    If I were to write a letter of complaint about this increase, would it not be correct to say that 'on 1st September 2018 I received a letter stating that my council tax is £500' because, technically, the letter from 1st September does say that.

    It would be true and accurate. It would also be grammatical. I think that's quite enough. The word correct carries the unfortunate suggestion that anything else would be incorrect.

    But it would equally true, accurate and grammatical to write

    'On 1st September 2018 I received a letter stating that my council tax was £500.'

    Now, if your letter also makes reference to the later council letter and the later figure of £600, then I think it would be rather odd to use the sentence with is £500.

    Thanks, @DavidCrosbie .

    So, if my letter of complaint did not mention the later figure of £600, the choice between is and was would be down to personal preference because both would be true, accurate and grammatical?

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