Should it be present perfect (has felt) / present simple (cannot understand) in the sentence below or the tense of the first sentence implies that these verbs fall into past aspect so past perfect / past simple pair (backshift) is to be applied?

I was reading a funny article today. Its author jokingly asked whether anyone has felt himself labeled as a 'cookoo' because of his acts others cannot understand.

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    I'm happy with 'has felt' for looking at past occurrences, coupled with 'others cannot understand' referring to persisting character traits. I'd probably use 'asks' for a recent article. Jan 28, 2014 at 6:54
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    The verb forms you used seem fine to me. :) -- In your type of sentence, the subordinate clauses can be altered to use the backshifted preterite; though, usually, that is optional.
    – F.E.
    Jan 28, 2014 at 8:49

1 Answer 1


The default in reporting speech is to turn verbs that occur in the present tense in the actual words spoken into the past tense and to turn can into could. Doing this produces:

I was reading a funny article today. Its author jokingly asked whether anyone had felt himself labelled as a 'cookoo' because of his acts others could not understand.

In this case, however, the most satisfactory solution might be to leave the verbs in the reported section as they are, and to introduce them not with asked but with asks.

  • Is it correct/neccessary to perform a backshift if I opt to leave the reporting verb as asked?
    – lexeme
    Jan 28, 2014 at 9:37
  • It depends on the extent to which you want to emphasise the current and continuing nature of what is described in the author's question. Jan 28, 2014 at 10:34

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