In simple terms, the structure of reported speech is:
reporting clause + conjuntion + reported clause
We sometimes change the tense of the reported clause by moving it back one tense. For example, present simple goes back one tense to past simple. We call this change "backshift".
When do we use backshift?
We use backshift when it is logical to use backshift. So, for example, if John said "I am hungry" two minutes ago and I am now telling his sister, I might NOT use backshift (because John is still hungry):
But if John said "I am hungry" yesterday, I would likely use backshift:
So we use backshift SOMETIMES but not always. And WHEN we use backshift, here's how it works with these common tenses and modals:
We NEVER use backshift when the original words are:
Look at the following examples. See if you can understand when and why they use backshift:
* if still true, change is optional (sometimes a matter of emphasis)
Now we can learn more about when we change Time and Place →