When constructing indirect speech, changing the simple past or the past progressive to the past perfect or the past perfect progressive is not always necessary.
1.a “I was hungry” said Joe. (direct speech)
1.b Joe said he was hungry. (Indirect speech)
2.a “I got married when I was just 17” she said.
2.b She told me that she was 17 when she got married.
3.a Journalist: “When did you and Mel meet for the first time?”
Rory: “We were both studying in Oxford when we MET.”
3.b He told the journalist they HAD MET when they were studying in Oxford.
3.c He told the journalist they MET when they were studying in Oxford.
Most of the verbs in the direct speech examples are in the simple past, these do not need to change tense in indirect speech (also known as ‘reported speech’) because the actions they refer to happened in the past. An exception can be seen in 3.b where the meeting and the studying both occurred in the past but the meeting happened before the two people had completed their studies. However, changing the tenses is still not obligatory as shown in 3c. The sentence is natural for the situation being described.
Under Chapter 31, Indirect Speech, the authors of APEG 1 explain [emphasis in bold mine]:
309 Past Tenses sometimes remain unchanged
C In written English past tenses usually do change to past perfect but there are the following exceptions:
- Past/Past continuous tenses in time clauses do not normally change:
- He said, ‘When we were living/lived in Paris…’= He said that when they were living/lived in Paris…
The main verb of such sentences can either remain unchanged or become the past perfect:
- He said, ‘When we were living/lived in Paris we often saw Paul.’=
- He said that when they were living/lived in Paris they often saw /had often seen Paul.
- A past tense used to describe a state of affairs which still exists when the speech is reported remains unchanged.
- She said, ‘I decided not to buy the house because it was on a main road’ = She said that she had decided not to buy the house
because it was on a main road.
In AGIU 2 the author confirms that if the situation being described happened in the past and has not changed, the past simple can be used instead of the past perfect.
45 Verb tense in that-clauses
- ‘I learnt how to eat with chopsticks when I was in Hong Kong’ ➞ Mary said that she had learnt/learnt how to eat with chopsticks when she was in Hong Kong.
- ‘I posted the card yesterday.’ ➞ She reassured me that she had posted/posted the card.
The same piece of advice is provided by the author of EGIU 3 4th Ed. in unit 47, section C and by Michael Swan, the author of PEG 4, who says under the entry of reported speech
It is important to realise that the tenses in reported speech are not
‘special’. They are (almost always) just the normal tenses for the
situation we are talking about. Compare:
- She was tired so she went home
- She said she was tired and she went home.
The first sentence describes the event using the simple past tense, the second sentence uses the same tense in reported speech because we are still talking about the past.
Martin Parrott, the author of GFELT 5, in chapter 18 writes:
Choosing between past simple and past perfect
Sometimes, a sequence of events may be so clear in the context that we
don't need to make this additionally clear in the tenses we choose.
For example, the following is from a report of the victim of a mugging
describing how he was attacked. The past simple is used for both the
reporting verb said and for the much earlier events was hit and were tied (had been hit… and had been tied… are possible but
He said he was hit over the head with a hefty object and struck fairly smartly between the legs, while his hands were tied behind his back with telephone wire.
It is an oversimplification that the tenses must always change when converting direct speech into reported speech. These tips are often found in student school books, which serve to guide learners and students alike but often lead to dogmatic rules “The problem is that if we want to report a sentence, we have to change the verb tense.” This “rule” is unsupported by the majority of the most renowned authors of English grammar books.
- A Practical English Grammar 4th Ed (1985). By A.J.Thomson and A.V.Martinet
- Advanced Grammar in Use (199) By Martin Hewings
- English Grammar in Use (2012) By Raymond Murphy
- Practical English Usage (1980) By Michael swan
- Grammar for English Language Teachers (2010) By Martin Parrott