Forums » English Grammar

Backshift in reported speech

  • JohnYamamoto-Wilson
    • Moderator
    • 11 posts
    January 19, 2022 5:48 PM PST

    There’s a fairly good explanation here:

    Backshift in Reported Speech

    This is a good explanation, because, unlike a lot of books and websites, it correctly says we sometimes use backshift - that is, we sometimes change the tense like this:

    • DIRECT* “I live in London.”
    • INDIRECT: He told me he lived in London.

    Notice how the verb “live” is in the present tense in the direct question, but in the past tense in the indirect/reported question.

    It is quite often taught that we have to use backshift in reported speech, but that is not correct. There are times when we do and times when we don’t; it mainly depends on what we want to say.

    For example, if we believe he still lives in London we will probably say:

    • He told me he lives in London.

    If we think he doesn’t live there any more, or we think he was lying, and doesn’t really live in London, then we will probably say:

    • He told me he lived in London.

    Here are a couple of videos I made explaining when and why we use backshift:


    The first video gives a fairly basic explanation; the second video goes into the topic in more depth - and has a very funny little dance in it at the end!

    This post was edited by JohnYamamoto-Wilson at January 19, 2022 5:51 PM PST