Member Emeritus
English UK Southern Standard English
Oxford Dictionaries (who spell it as all one word) define backshift as: [Grammar] The changing of a present tense in direct speech to a past tense in reported speech (or a past tense to pluperfect).
(They show three sample sentences).

They only list it as a noun but it's also used with the same meaning as a verb. I couldn't find it in any other dictionaries we commonly use.

It's not listed at all with that meaning on the wrf dictionary page, but there are upwards of thirty threads using it.
  • owlman5

    Senior Member
    I can certainly say, Donny, that I have found the verb to be very handy in talking about what English-speakers do when they report something that somebody said or did in the past. Using the verb backshift is far better, in my opinion, than any attempt to refer to that practice with other words in longer expressions. I think it would be a useful addition to the Word Reference dictionary.

    I must confess, however, that I had never heard or read the word backshift before I joined the forum nearly ten years ago. From what I gathered in your opening remarks about the word, I am apparently among the people who may be breaking new ground by using it as a verb.:D

    If a suggestion is automatically rejected because it is a back-formation from an established noun, backshift may not make the cut in here. But I think that would be a shame. I'll never accept conversate as a valid or desirable substitution for converse, but backshift seems reasonable and useful to me.
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    "to shift back" as the verb for "backshift" from a article:
    The tenses have ‘shifted’ or ‘moved back’ in time.
    The past perfect does not shift back; it stays the same.