While changing direct to indirect speech, we generally back shift the tense.

Example - "I have finished my work." (Direct speech)
He said that he had finished his work. (Indirect speech)

In this example present perfect tense is back shifted to past perfect tense.

NOTE : There is an exception to this rule : At the time of reporting, if the reported words are still true or still relevant then back shifting is optional. For example: "He said that he has lost his keys." Here present perfect tense is not back shifted because at the time of reporting situation is still relevant. By relevant I mean that the consequence of losing his key can still be seen or heard.

Now my main question(s) is:

  • Context: Recently an earthquake came in India and Nepal. Thousands of people have lost their lives. Rescue operation is on its way.

  • Now consider the example which is not an indirect speech: "The President learned that this earthquake has caused destruction all across Nepal and India."

First: tell me, here is it correct to use "has caused" under the context that situation is still relevant, i.e. the aftermath of the earthquake can still be seen?

Second: Here is back shifting optional or obligatory?

Another question:

You see, my intention of asking question is - In sentence structure of indirect speech like - (He said +........... , He informed +....... , He claimed + .......... ), I am aware that if the situation is still relevant then back shifting of present perfect tense is optional.

But what if the sentence structure is something like - ( He learned + ........... , He noticed +.......... , He found +....... ) here also is back shifting of present perfect tense optional if the situation is still relevant ?

P.S. : My question concerns only present perfect tense.

  • somebody please answer my query.
    – iamRR
    Apr 29, 2015 at 18:32
  • 2
    The rules for back-shifting are the same for he learned, he noticed, he found, he informed, he said, he claimed. Apr 30, 2015 at 16:52
  • 1
    You might be interested in the threads related to the backshifting tag here on EL&U and on ELL (a sister site).
    – F.E.
    May 2, 2015 at 1:37
  • @ F.E. - Please advise me on this - Imagine, A and B are two friends. A says to B : "You go to Sam's room and see if Sam's sleeping." B : "Okay" B leaves and find that Sam's room is closed. 5 minutes later B returns and tells A about Sam room. A: Did you go there ? B: Yes I went there and I found that Sam's room is closed. Is 'is' possible in the above sentence given the fact that B knows that Sam's room is still closed at the time of speaking to A. ?
    – iamRR
    May 2, 2015 at 3:44

1 Answer 1


When they said relevant I think it meant still active in that moment. For instance:

Mary: I've lost my keys!
John: What did she just say?
Lucy: She said she has lost her keys.

But, if the John asked Lucy a few hours after Mary's sentence:

What did she say when we were at the shop, I didn't hear it well?

Lucy would say:

She said she had lost her keys.

If the time difference between the earthquake and the president's acknowledgement of such disaster wasn't very long, then it is optional. If we are talking about time span of, let's say, one day, it will be back-shifted because it happened yesterday no matter the consequences of his knowing now. We don't say Tesla has invented the light even though we feel the results now. Therefore it's optional when the time difference between actual action and the results/consequences is small. Also, you cannot think of actual consequences of the action itself and the consequences which is meant by sentence. Consequence in the sentence means it is still in progress, for example She has lived there for five years (and she still lives there). The earthquake happened at that moment, and that's it. A few hours after that, it belongs to the past. But you can say there have been 500 injured people from the earthquake so far (there have been since the earthquake happened and maybe some more injured people would be found). As for your question about introductory verbs in indirect speech, they don't distinguish whether back-shift is optional or not. There are some which require subjunctive, but apart from that, they all require back-shift unless the aforementioned context interferes.

  • Grammar book says that "in indirect speech if what is said is still true at the time of reporting then back shifting of tense becomes optional. Indirect speech : "John said that he lives in New York." (Here no change in tense because at the time of reporting John still lives in New York.) Now lets take an example which is not an indirect speech. a) When I met John I found that he lives in New York. My question is here in the examples a) and b) , do we follow the same rules of "not back shifting" which we follow in indirect speech, under the condition that John still lives in New York ?
    – iamRR
    May 1, 2015 at 18:28
  • Back-shifting is only for sentences in indirect speech. Therefore, your sentence When I met John I found out that he lives in New York stays that way because it is not in indirect speech. If it were, it would be optional, for example I said when I saw John I found out he lives in New York. May 1, 2015 at 20:13
  • "When I met John I learned that he lives in New York." & "When I met John I found that he lives in New York." Are these questions grammatically correct or do I need to use 'lived' in place of 'live' ?
    – iamRR
    May 1, 2015 at 20:40
  • There are both the same and grammatically correct. May 1, 2015 at 20:59
  • And you don't use lived because it is not sequence of tenses and because it is not indirect speech. May 1, 2015 at 21:00

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