Doubtful about the Tense in a Phrase of Reported Speech

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Robocop

Senior Member
(Swiss) German
Direct speech: (Samuel says referring to an action in the past) "I was going to the cinema when a woman was ran over by a lorry before my eyes".

Reported speech: Samuel told me that he had been going to the cinema when a woman had been run over (or should it be "was run over"?) by a lorry before his eyes.

I am not sure which is correct...
 
  • FC7user

    Senior Member
    US English
    I would also just say 'Samuel told me that while he was going to the movies, a woman was run over by a lorry before his very eyes.' It sounds better to me.
     
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    Dimcl

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Direct speech: (Samuel says referring to an action in the past) "I was going to the cinema when a woman was ran run over by a lorry before my eyes".

    Reported speech: Samuel told me that he had been was going to the cinema when a woman had been was run over (or should it be "was run over"?) by a lorry before his eyes.

    I am not sure which is correct...
    You would only say that the woman "had been" run over if the incident had happened prior to Samuel happening upon the scene. In that case, Samuel would say:

    "I was going to the cinema yesterday and I saw an accident scene. This woman had been run over not 5 minutes before I got there".
     

    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    You would only say that the woman "had been" run over if the incident had happened prior to Samuel happening upon the scene. In that case, Samuel would say:

    "I was going to the cinema yesterday and I saw an accident scene. This woman had been run over not 5 minutes before I got there".
    I'm afraid I have to disagree with you on this. The normal rules for reported speech are that the verb tenses take a step backwards. i.e. Simple Past becomes Past Perfect. In any event Samuel was going to the cinema before the woman was run over, which would also imply a Past Perfect in the first instance.

    'He had been going to the cinema when a woman had been run over ....'
     

    Revontuli

    Senior Member
    Turkey-Turkish
    I think either tenses should taken a step backwards or not be changed at all. What I know is that in such examples, where there is simple past or past continuos tense and time expressions are used like ''when,while etc'', tense remains the same. I don't think using simple past tense as it is or turning it into past perfect would change the meaning.

    I think,if the main idea of reported speech is to take each tense a step backwards in an indirect speech,they should be used in past perfect tense,as Porteño said.
     

    Robocop

    Senior Member
    (Swiss) German
    In any event Samuel was going to the cinema before the woman was run over, which would also imply a Past Perfect in the first instance.
    Well, the context is that Samuel is on the way to the cinema when he becomes a witness of the woman's accident.
    I would also just say 'Samuel told me that while he was going to the movies, a woman was run over by a lorry before his very eyes.' It sounds better to me.
    You would only say that the woman "had been" run over if the incident had happened prior to Samuel happening upon the scene. In that case, Samuel would say:
    "I was going to the cinema yesterday and I saw an accident scene. This woman had been run over not 5 minutes before I got there".
    The corrected phrase [Reported speech: Samuel told me that he had been was going to the cinema when a woman had been was run over by a lorry before his eyes.] had been my first approach indeed. But then I got second thoughts and according to the mentioned rule (tenses take a step backwards in reported speech), I changed to "had been going". Only was I unable to make up my mind concerning the second clause. Yet if the same rule applies it should be "had been run over", I think...
     

    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    Well, the context is that Samuel is on the way to the cinema when he becomes a witness of the woman's accident.
    The corrected phrase [Reported speech: Samuel told me that he had been was going to the cinema when a woman had been was run over by a lorry before his eyes.] had been my first approach indeed. But then I got second thoughts and according to the mentioned rule (tenses take a step backwards in reported speech), I changed to "had been going". Only was I unable to make up my mind concerning the second clause. Yet if the same rule applies it should be "had been run over", I think...
    As I said in post #5.:)
     

    mtmjr

    Senior Member
    English (US)
    I'm not too familiar with the rules of reported speech, but what I do know as a native speaker is that using "had been" in this sentence in both clauses sounds not only awkward, but wrong. He arrived at the scene before time was interrupted by the crash. Therefore, his being on his way to the cinema started prior to the crash and should be further back in time. I would say:

    Samuel told me that he had been going to the cinema when a woman was run over by a lorry before his eyes.
     

    Robocop

    Senior Member
    (Swiss) German
    I'm not too familiar with the rules of reported speech, but what I do know as a native speaker is that using "had been" in this sentence in both clauses sounds not only awkward, but wrong. He arrived at the scene before time was interrupted by the crash. Therefore, his being on his way to the cinema started prior to the crash and should be further back in time. I would say:
    Samuel told me that he had been going to the cinema when a woman was run over by a lorry before his eyes.
    That is exactly my dilemma: According to the rules, the clauses as posted first should be correct but they sound awkward, and the answers posted direct me varyingly. So, the dilemma persists...
    Maybe this shows examplarily that rules give general guidance (to non-native speakers) but do not apply to every particular case!?
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    The 'rule' that tenses "shift back one" in reported speech doesn't always apply when the original direct speech was in the past tense.

    I like the explanation here:

    Generally speaking, the past simple and continuous don't always need to be changed if:
    there is a time context which makes everything clear,
    and/or
    there is another action already using the past perfect, which might alter the meaning or make things confusing.
    These are the same site's comments on various transformations of the direct speech "It started raining heavily when I left work":
    He said it had started raining heavily when he had left work (it sounds horrible and the sentence is almost nothing but verbs).
    He said it had started raining heavily when he left work (is wrong because it means it was already raining when he left work)
    He said it started raining heavily when he left work (is the best version because it is accurate, short, and there is no confusion because of the time context)
    I prefer "was" in both parts of the topic sentence.
     
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    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    The 'rule' that tenses "shift back one" in reported speech doesn't always apply when the original direct speech was in the past tense.

    I like the explanation here:
    The problem is that this an opinion posted on one site, but grammatically it is incorrect and his preferred version is quite wrong, although I have to admit it is quite likely to be used in common speech.

    According to A Practical English Grammar (Thomson & Martinet) Page 271, the only exceptions to the 'one tense' back rule are as follows:

    In spoken English when no confusion is caused about the relative times of the action.
    The past continuous does not necessarily change in practice except where it refers to a completed action.
    In written English the exceptions are:
    Past/Past Continuous tenses in time clauses do not normally change.
    He said: When we were living/lived in Paris
    He said that when they were living/lived in Paris
    A past tense used to describe a state of affairs which still exists.
    She said: I decided not to buy the house because it was on a main road.
    She said she had decided not to buy the house because it was on a main road.
     
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    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    You have your view on my link and I have mine:)

    Your Thomson and Martinet extracts are very helpful. Using them we get two different versions of Robocop's sentence.

    In spoken English:
    Samuel told me that he was going to the cinema when a woman was run over by a lorry before his eyes.:tick:

    In written English:
    Samuel told me that he had been going to the cinema when a woman was run over by a lorry before his eyes.:tick:

    That conclusion seems fine to me.
     

    Porteño

    Member Emeritus
    British English
    You have your view on my link and I have mine:)

    Your Thomson and Martinet extracts are very helpful. Using them we get two different versions of Robocop's sentence.

    In spoken English:
    Samuel told me that he was going to the cinema when a woman was run over by a lorry before his eyes.:tick:

    In written English:
    Samuel told me that he had been going to the cinema when a woman was run over by a lorry before his eyes.:cross:

    That conclusion seems fine to me.
    We agree to differ, but I still find the second one to be incorrect.:)
     

    liliput

    Senior Member
    U.K. English
    You have your view on my link and I have mine:)

    Your Thomson and Martinet extracts are very helpful. Using them we get two different versions of Robocop's sentence.

    In spoken English:
    Samuel told me that he was going to the cinema when a woman was run over by a lorry before his eyes.:tick:

    In written English:
    Samuel told me that he had been going to the cinema when a woman was run over by a lorry before his eyes.:tick:

    That conclusion seems fine to me.
    I agree with this too. There is no need to change the tense in the when clause.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    We agree to differ, but I still find the second one to be incorrect.:)
    Intriguing, P.

    I was following the T&M exceptions precisely, particularly
    In written English the exceptions are:
    Past/Past Continuous tenses in time clauses do not normally change.
    The time clause in Robocop's sentence is
    when a woman was run over by a lorry before his eyes.

    It contains a past tense.

    Therefore the past tense does not change.:D
     

    Robocop

    Senior Member
    (Swiss) German
    Your Thomson and Martinet extracts are very helpful. Using them we get two different versions of Robocop's sentence.

    In spoken English:
    Samuel told me that he was going to the cinema when a woman was run over by a lorry before his eyes.:tick:

    In written English:
    Samuel told me that he had been going to the cinema when a woman was run over by a lorry before his eyes.:tick:

    That conclusion seems fine to me.
    I am happy with this answer, and many thanks to all who contributed to this thread.
     
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