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He said: “You are a very stupid man.”
→ He said that I was a very stupid man.

But when we express the past by using the structure "used to" is the shift rule valid as well?

He used to say: “You are a very stupid man.”
→ He used to say that I was a very stupid man.

  • Why can't you say He said I am a very stupid man? – bib Sep 24 '14 at 13:39
  • Yes, it works fine. Any way of expressing the past allows reported speech. However, as @bib notes above, present tense is fine in the reported speech in this sentence because someone who was a very stupid man in the past is very likely to still be a very stupid man. Stupidity does not often disappear. – John Lawler Sep 24 '14 at 14:14
  • If he was predicting that you would stay stupid, it might be something like He said I would be a very stupid man. Back to the original question, used to generally implies that something no longer occurs, i.e. that he no longer says that you're stupid. So the tense shift seems even more appropriate in that case. – Barmar Sep 24 '14 at 15:53
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As @John notes above, any way of expressing the past allows reported speech.

we always use this word when talking about the past.

But for more conceptual clarity, can't we use the following hypothesis:

He said that I was a very stupid man-- This sentence does not reflect that he repeatedly told you that you were a stupid man.

He used to say that I was a very stupid man-- (Past) More than one instance of him telling you that you were a stupid man but he no longer says that you're stupid.

E.g. When Joshua was a child, he used to climb trees. (Now he doesn't climb trees.)

Alternatively....

When the base form of the verb is used.

  • She didn't use to swim before noon. (Now she does swim before noon.)

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