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What will be the reported speech for the following sentence:

She said, "I was walking down the road when I saw the accident."

Possibility 1: She said that she had been walking down the road when she had seen the accident.

Possibility 2: She said that she had been walking down the road when she saw the accident.

Please suggest which possibility mentioned by me is the correct reported speech for the above sentence? I am in a great dilemma.

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  • You are introducing "had seen" into the report, which she did not say. Also, two 'had been' and 'had seen' is too many. Actually, why can't you use 'she was walking...when she saw'? Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 17:01
  • I agree with @Yosef Baskin. No change in tense is necessary - and I suspect it is what most native speakers would say. But if you are studying reported speech and backshift and need to prove your knowledge of it, then I'd go for possibility 2.
    – Shoe
    Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 17:04

3 Answers 3

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TLDR: either had seen and saw might be correct, depending on context.

Google books finds the following quote in Tense in English: Its Structure and Use in Discourse, by Renaat Declerck,

Consider now

(175) (a) Bill was in London when Jenny was in Paris.
          (b) I explained that Bill had been in London when Jenny was in Paris.

Examples like these show that the tense form of a direct speech when-clause is not normally backshifted in indirect speech.

The book goes on to explain that there is an exception to this — narrative when-clauses, where the when is backshifted. Is this a narrative when-clause? How do you tell them apart? The book says "Narrative when-clauses do not in fact answer the question when? It gives as example:

They said that they had been sitting in the kitchen when all of a sudden Bill had recited that poem.

So is the OP's clause a narrative when-clause? I think it depends on the context. It certainly could be viewed as answering the question "when did you see the accident," in which case it should be saw. But it also could be viewed as part of a story that the narrator is telling, in which case had seen would also work.

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The following examples explain it all.

Past perfect continuous: uses

Continuing events in the past

We use the past perfect continuous to talk about actions or events which started before a particular time in the past and were still in progress up to that time in the past:

It was so difficult to get up last Monday for school. I had been working on my essays the night before and I was very tired. (The past perfect continuous focuses on the activity of working on the essays up to a particular time in the past.)

A: Why did you decide to go travelling for a year?

B: Well, I’d been reading an amazing book about a woman who rode a horse around South America. I was just halfway through the book when I decided I had to go travelling and that was it. I just took a year out of work and went. (The past perfect continuous focuses on the activity of reading the book at the time when she made her decision. She hadn’t finished the book when she made her decision.)

We can use the past perfect continuous to talk about events which started before a time in the past and which finished, but where the effects or results were still important at a point in the past:

It had been raining and the ground was still wet.

Source: Cambridge Dictionary

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    When you're quoting large parts of another work, you should make it clear what is quoted and what (if anything) is your own words. Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 10:47
  • No, it doesn't explain it all, Aishwarya. The simpler 'She said that she was walking down the road when she saw the accident.' is probably more idiomatic than back-shifted but synonymous 'She said that she had been walking down the road when she saw the accident.' Commented Aug 28, 2023 at 10:57
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http://write-site.athabascau.ca/esl/direct_indirect.php

//She said, "I was walking down the road when I saw the accident."// Here, the reporting verb 'said' is past tense. Thus, verbs in the clause to be reported should go a step further to past, to make it grammatically correct, unless the reference is to some universal phenomena. Thus, it should be: She said that she had been walking down the road, when she had seen the accident.

Yes, while speaking we may not use/ report this way, but in writing, we do.

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  • Look at this web page: "Simple Past and Past Progressive do not normally change in sentences with when / if." Commented Jan 7, 2020 at 2:12
  • @PeterShor: Tend to agree with you, but the word 'normally' in "Simple Past and Past Progressive do not normally change in sentences with when / if." (from the link), makes me think of other situations.
    – Ram Pillai
    Commented Jan 7, 2020 at 2:24
  • In the past, 'would do' became 'would have done'; 'should happen - should have happened'; would be doing = would have been doing, but it evolved over a period for simplifying and now those don't change.
    – Ram Pillai
    Commented Jan 7, 2020 at 2:26

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