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change of time / change of tense
in reported speech
He said he loves me!

Marina from Moldova writes:

Could you please explain change of time and change of tense in reported speech? Thank you in advance.


 

Roger Woodham replies:

no time change ~ no tense change

There is normally no tense change, Marina, if the reporting verb is in the present tense. This is because there is no important change of time or circumstances. Consider these police interviews:

  • A: I've got no idea where Mack the Knife is.
  • B: He says he's got no idea where Mack the Knife is.
  • A: I haven't seen him since he came out of prison.
  • B: He claims he hasn't seen him since he came out of prison.
  • A: I am innocent of any offence you might like to charge me with.
  • B: He maintains he is innocent of any offence we might like to charge him with.

Similarly, after reporting verbs which are in the future or the present perfect, tenses normally remain the same in the reported clause as in what the speaker originally said. Again there is no important change of time or circumstances. Consider the following:

  • A: Jill, I've got a ticket for the concert, so I'll be joining you.
  • B: I'll tell Tim you've got a ticket and will be joining us. He'll be so pleased.

 

  • There will be a 10p in the pound increase in income tax from next April to help fund the National Health Service.
  • The Government has announced that there will be a 10p in the pound increase in income tax from next April to help fund the National Health Service.


 

time change ~ tense change

However, what is said by somebody is often reported subsequently at a different time and in a different place. This change of time nearly always results in a change of tense.

When a past-tense reporting verb is used, the tense of what was said originally usually moves one tense back into the past.

Consider the following examples which all relate to Tom and Julia's engagement party and observe how the tenses change:

  • A: Are you going to Tom and Julia's engagement party?
  • B: I asked him if he was going to Tom and Julia's engagement party.
  • A: Can you pick me up from the station?
  • B: I wondered whether they might be able to pick me up from the station.
  • C: Who's that girl in the red dress, Tom?
  • C: I asked Tom who that girl in the red dress was.
  • A: How did you make that salad, Julie?
  • A: I asked Julie how she had made the salad.
  • B: How much wine have you brought, Mike?
  • B: I wanted to know how much wine Mike had brought.
  • D: We're getting married on 4 July and have bought a house in Manchester.
  • A: They explained that they were getting married on 4 July and had bought a house in Manchester.

The final example relates to a point in time which is still in the future even when the original speech is reported. No tense change is also possible:

  • They explained that they're getting married on 4 July and have bought a house in Manchester.

With reference to the future, consider the way I love you is reported in these examples and the way in which the meaning changes depending on how it is reported:

  • He told me that he loved me…. But I now know that he was lying.
  • He has told me that he loves me…. And I think that may be true.
 

time change ~ no tense change

Note that some verb forms cannot go further back into the past, even when they are reported at a later date. This applies to used to, the past perfect and past modal and third conditional structures. Consider the following:

  • A: We used to go out dancing every night of the week.
  • B: They admitted that they used to go out dancing every night of the week.
  • A: We could have saved ourselves a lot of money, if we'd taken your advice.
  • B: They conceded that they could have saved themselves a lot of money, if they'd taken my advice.
  • A: I had never eaten oysters before I met Nelson.
  • B: She mentioned that she had never eaten oysters before she met Nelson.
  • A: I might be back late tonight as I'm going out with Max.
  • B: She told me that she might be back late as she was going out with Max.


     
     
   

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