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I'm sure people are familiar with the "rule" that the tense is moved backward when using reported speech i.e. "I am..." becomes "He said he was..."

However, there are many cases where it is OK not to change the tense e.g. "I'm going on holiday next week" being reported a short time later/the same day as He said he is going on holiday next week, which in my opinion invalidates the original rule as it is an unhelpful attempt to be prescriptive about English usage.

Can anyone offer an intuitive explanation as to why/when it is OK not to change the tense, or perhaps to explain what differences in meaning are implied when each is used?

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3 Answers

Careful writers will report He said, 'I'm going on holiday next week' as He said he was going on holiday the following week. (Note the three changes: I > he, 'm > was, next > following.) However, in speech and in informal writing often only the personal pronoun will change, with no change in meaning.

EDIT

Today is Monday 23 April. If I want to refer to the week beginning Monday 30 April I will say next week and not the next week. So I might say, for example, I’m going on holiday next week and not I’m going on holiday the next week. If someone reports what I say at some time in the future, then it will be He said he was going on holiday the following week, although He said he was going on holiday the next week is just about possible. However, if someone reports what I said soon after I say it, then it’s He said he was going on holiday next week.

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Only if the report is being made within a few days, so that the following week and next week have the same referent. Otherwise, even informally, it's the next week. (Is there a badge for correcting Barrie?) –  TimLymington Jan 18 '12 at 11:22
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@TimLymington: I'd say you were expanding rather than correcting. –  Barrie England Jan 18 '12 at 11:33
    
@Barrie England. I've always thought that saying "the following" or "the next" week in reported speech would mean the same, so to me the sentence could be reported as "he said he was going on holiday the next/the following week". From what TimLymington says however I'm under the impression this is not so. Could you explain? –  Paola Apr 23 '12 at 6:20
    
@Paola: I've tried to answer your point by editing my answer. –  Barrie England Apr 23 '12 at 6:41
    
@Barrie England. Thank you, you've been very helpful. I didn't know it was possible to keep "next week" in reported speech, I thought it was necessary to change it every time. –  Paola Apr 23 '12 at 6:51
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It is perfectly ok not to change the tense if what the speaker says is still true and you have no reason to doubt the reliability or veracity of the statement. It is also correct to backshift the tense in such circumstances, and this is what older pedagogic grammars might prescribe.

The backshift becomes the more usual choice however if you want imply that you consider the statement dubious or unreliable in some way. In such circumstances of course you would often go on to say why.

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If the words out of his mouth were “I am going on holiday next week,” then both the following are acceptable:

He said he is going on holiday next week.
He said he was going on holiday next week.

The former is more accurate, but the latter sounds more natural. The former implies certainty or belief in what he said, the latter implies a certain amount of detachment from the truth. Certainly if the person relaying what he said was dubious, or if he had to cancel his holiday, the latter would be more acceptable:

He said he was going on holiday next week (but I think it might be an excuse to slow down his project work).
He said he was going on holiday next week (but his flight was cancelled due to the weather).

Moreover, "He said he is going on holiday next week" would be awkward-sounding if the action of going on holiday already took place. In which case, "(Last time I saw him, about two months ago) he said he was going on holiday next week" would be preferred.

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