In reported speech we generally back shift the tense. But why in news articles do I often see that this guideline is violated? For example:

a) - The president said that he wants support from other countries to combat terrorism.

Don't you think that 'wants' should be back shifted to 'wanted'?

b) - Secretary said that she has faced many hurdles in her life.

Don't you think that here 'had faced' should be used instead?

P.S. My question concerns reported speech in news articles.

  • 2
    Both versions are correct. "Backshifting" is often optional. You might find this question helpful: Here
    – user73373
    May 9, 2015 at 13:15
  • @Arrowfar -- Your suggested post gives the case of present tense only. What about present perfect tense usage such as "Secretary said that she has faced many hurdles in her life." In this sentence under what condition 'had faced'correct ?
    – iamRR
    May 9, 2015 at 14:34
  • This guideline is violated all the time by many people because they never heard of it. It seems to be taught to certain English teachers, but not to others. Native English speakers do as they please with tenses, and they rarely please those English teachers. May 9, 2015 at 14:54

1 Answer 1


It is possible that news sources often retain the original tense in reported speech to convey the immediacy of their reporting. Consider the following:

Jane: "I want pizza."

Father (who couldn't hear): "What did Jane say?"

Mother: "She said she wants pizza."

While "backshifting" (i.e. "She said she wanted pizza.") would not be incorrect, retaining the original tense is probably more common in this scenario.

Another reason that news sources might retain the speaker's original tense is to preserve the distinction between the speaker's description of a situation that no longer exists and one that does.

"I want the support of House Republicans."

"I wanted the support of House Republicans."

One could backshift the first statement and report both of them as "Obama said that he wanted the support of House Republicans." But there obviously was a difference in meaning.

A third possible reason relates to the first. A large part of news reporting is reported speech. (One source says that 90% of newspaper articles are reported speech.) Backshifting the verbs in every sentence would lead to newspapers written almost entirely in the past tense.

In any event, as pointed out in the comments to your question, it is not incorrect to retain the original tense of the reported speech. If the Secretary said "I have faced many hurdles in my life," it is not incorrect to report this as in your example (b).

  • 1
    @iamRR it is unfair to ask a user who has answered your original question, with two "new" questions. A user is not obliged to reply. Your insisttence to say "has" is confusing. It is not the verb "have" but a tense i.e., HAVE/HAS+Past Participle (i.e.present perfect)
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 10, 2015 at 10:21
  • @iamRR I don't understand how the question in your comment relates to reported speech. Is someone reporting that you said "I noticed that the clock has stopped?" If the reporter is informing the person who is in charge of fixing the clock, she might well say, "IanRR noticed that the clock has stopped." Since "noticed" is already in the past tense, there's no backshifting involved. (As an aside, I'm not quite sure why you chose to put "noticed" in the past tense. Perhaps to distance yourself from the statement in some way?)
    – Jonathan
    May 11, 2015 at 4:27
  • I just want to ask that is the sentence "I noticed that the clock has stopped." possible ?
    – iamRR
    May 11, 2015 at 4:49
  • @iamRR OK, sorry. In my opinion, it is possible. For example, you are in a train station and want to let the station official know that the clock has stopped. You could say, "I noticed that the clock has stopped." If, on the other hand, you were telling a story about a day (in the past) when the clock stopped in the station, you would say, "I noticed that the clock had stopped."
    – Jonathan
    May 11, 2015 at 5:28

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