Tenses conversion in reported speech

JFP_sunny

Member
rumano
Hi, all!

I know that when passing a sentence from direct speech to reported speech, past continuos converts into past perfect continuos. But, even so, I saw a lot of sentences where past continuos remained the same. For example, I transformed the sentence "I was waiting for the bus when he arrived", through reported speech , in "She told me that she had been waiting for the bus when he arrived." And, surprisingly, the solution they gave, at the end the exercise, was: "She said she was waiting for the bus when he arrived." I´m totally confused now.. :/ Is there any grammar rule I missed..??!!
Thanks a lot!
 
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Yes, there’s something you’ve missed. Usually, only the main verb needs to be backshifted in reported speech.

    What was she doing when he arrived?

    “I was waiting for the bus (main clause) when he arrived (subordinate clause),” she said.
    What had she been doing when he arrived?
    She said that she had been waiting for the bus when he arrived.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Is there any grammar rule I missed..??!!
    Not really, but you might have been taught it in too inflexible a manner.

    There are two reasons for backshifting:
    1. To ensure verbs refer to the correct time in relation to now, rather than in relation to the time the words were spoken. Thus things that were in the present or future but are no longer still in the present of future must be changed to some form of past tense. Note that if the action was in the past in direct speech, it is still in the past in relation to now, so this rule does not apply.
    2. To ensure that the time of the action makes sense in relation to the time of the reporting verb.
    Note that neither of these "rules" are prescriptive; they do not, in themselves, tell you what tenses to use. This makes them rather tricky for learners (including children of native speakers), which is why you have been taught such things as "past continuous converts into past perfect continuous".

    Regarding "rule 2" above, the reporting verb sets the time of the action: "She told me...".
    If you want to refer to something that happened before this time, you use the past perfect, and "She told me that she had been waiting for the bus when he arrived" is not wrong.

    However, the past perfect tends only to be used when it is necessary. In this case, is it really necessary to make it clear that the time she was waiting for the bus happened before the time she told you about it? She cannot possibly have been referring to the present or future when she spoke the words, so there can be no misunderstanding here, and the important thing is that his arrival happened at the same time as her waiting for the bus, not that both events happened before she told you about it. "She said she was waiting for the bus when he arrived" is fine.

    If you are not happy with this more flexible approach, or if you are uncertain when not to backshift, then it is always safer to backshift. However, it is good to be aware that backshifting might not be necessary.
     

    JFP_sunny

    Member
    rumano
    Yes, there’s something you’ve missed. Usually, only the main verb needs to be backshifted in reported speech.

    What was she doing when he arrived?

    “I was waiting for the bus (main clause) when he arrived (subordinate clause),” she said.
    What had she been doing when he arrived?
    She said that she had been waiting for the bus when he arrived.
    And isn´t it the same thing I said..??!! (no irony intended!)
     

    JFP_sunny

    Member
    rumano
    Not really, but you might have been taught it in too inflexible a manner.

    There are two reasons for backshifting:
    1. To ensure verbs refer to the correct time in relation to now, rather than in relation to the time the words were spoken. Thus things that were in the present or future but are no longer still in the present of future must be changed to some form of past tense. Note that if the action was in the past in direct speech, it is still in the past in relation to now, so this rule does not apply.
    2. To ensure that the time of the action makes sense in relation to the time of the reporting verb.
    Note that neither of these "rules" are prescriptive; they do not, in themselves, tell you what tenses to use. This makes them rather tricky for learners (including children of native speakers), which is why you have been taught such things as "past continuous converts into past perfect continuous".

    Regarding "rule 2" above, the reporting verb sets the time of the action: "She told me...".
    If you want to refer to something that happened before this time, you use the past perfect, and "She told me that she had been waiting for the bus when he arrived" is not wrong.

    However, the past perfect tends only to be used when it is necessary. In this case, is it really necessary to make it clear that the time she was waiting for the bus happened before the time she told you about it? She cannot possibly have been referring to the present or future when she spoke the words, so there can be no misunderstanding here, and the important thing is that his arrival happened at the same time as her waiting for the bus, not that both events happened before she told you about it. "She said she was waiting for the bus when he arrived" is fine.

    If you are not happy with this more flexible approach, or if you are uncertain when not to backshift, then it is always safer to backshift. However, it is good to be aware that backshifting might not be necessary.
    Thank you so much for your explanation, Uncle Jack!
    As I understand, in English, like in Maths, 2+2 are not always, 4 :)
    Thanks again!
     
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