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My wife's textbook says that these two are the same:

  1. He said to me, "I want you to join the game."
  2. He told me (that) he wanted me to join the game.

I'm not a native English speaker, but in this situation I would say "He told me (that) he wants me to join the game." Maybe I'm wrong, but to me wanted indicates that while he previously did want, he didn't want it anymore when he spoke to me. Or, if the entire story is in a novel or something, I think the past tense would be used.

In which situations do you use the past tense (e.g. wanted) after "told me that"? In which situations do you use the present tense (e.g. wants)? I would appreciate some example sentences as well.

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He said to me, "I want you to join the game."

He spoke to you at a time in the past, but the words in quotation marks are the actual words he said at that time, so those words are in the present tense because they are the actual words he spoke.

He told me (that) he wanted me to join the game.

Again, he spoke to you in the past, but this time the reported words are not the actual words that he spoke, but are the gist or sense or 'description' of what he said. Because this is describing what happened and what was said in the past (and is not directly quoting what was said), then we use the past tense: the speaking and the wanting both happened in the past.

You have commented that, to you, "wanted indicates that while he previously did want, he didn't want it anymore when he spoke to me." If that were the case, then the first example would have been:

He said to me, "I wanted you to join the game."

meaning "but I no longer want you to" or that it's too late to join the game.

In this event, your second example would have been:

He told me (that) he had wanted me to join the game.

The use of "had wanted" means that it was already in the past when he said it. Putting it another way: "told" is already in the past; but "had wanted" is even further in the past.

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