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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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4 Answers 4

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.


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
@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

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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Thank you so much for both the asker and answerers. Yet, I am still doubtful regarding to changing the time expression next week to the following week. As a rule, next week and the following week mean differently. How come we change next week to the following week. Also, if the original speech is reported a few days forwards, then it should be this week, not the following week. In such a case, would you mind giving me an example(with specific dates of original speech and of reported speech) explaining why next week changes to the following week? I thank and apologize I post the question here. Yet, I am in the need of this explanation. Thx

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Hi, Jjang eu, and welcome to English Language & Usage. Please be aware that a new question like yours, even if it is in some sense a followup to an existing question, is best posted as a separate question—with a link to the older question for context if that seems helpful. This not only helps the site avoid accumulating pages on which multiple questions appear at various points, but ensures that each new question (like yours) is suitably prominent—for you, for potential answerers, and for future readers curious about the same question. The answer boxes are intended for answers only. Thanks! – Sven Yargs Jul 31 at 1:35
M so sorry. I'll remove it and post it in the question section. Thx – Jjang eu Jul 31 at 1:55
Please don't think that I mean my comment as a reprimand. This site has many conventions and procedures, some of which are likely to confuse or utterly baffle many newcomers. But once you get a sense of how the site works, it can be a very useful resource. – Sven Yargs Jul 31 at 2:06

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