I've been told that I should use simple past in reported speech when the direct speech is in simple present such as I **am** the best ~> He said he **was** the best but what happens for imperative mood direct speech

"Mom said dont trust strangers"


"Mom said didn't trust strangers"

I think I should maintain the first form. But I'm not sure. And I'm not even sure this relates to the sentence mood. I need the best choice and a further explaination for this :)


3 Answers 3


Mom said, "Don't trust strangers".

When you change an imperative sentence from direct to indirect (reported) speech, you don't change the tense in the reported speech; you keep the present tense. What you should do is that you change the reporting speech into should or to-infinitive clause as follows:

Mom told me that I shouldn't trust strangers or

Mom told me not to trust strangers.

  • Oh, that's also a good solution. Should I do that everytime I convert direct imperative speech into reported speech? Commented Oct 16, 2016 at 6:21
  • Yee, you should.
    – Khan
    Commented Oct 16, 2016 at 9:14
  • 1
    This is the correct answer. There are many more examples here: grammar-quizzes.com/clause3.html
    – David K
    Commented Oct 16, 2016 at 11:05

Interesting question. To answer your question: yes, when reporting imperative speech you should use the present tense in the same way it would have been spoken:

Mother said don't trust strangers.

But I don't think this has do with the imperative form, but rather it's more of an informal way to include reported speech. For example, this paraphrase of a famous line from "Macbeth":

Shakespeare said life is tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, and signifying nothing.

I could say "was" but I prefer to use "is" because that's the tense Shakespeare uses in the play. In the same way your example is "don't" trust strangers, and not "didn't" trust strangers, because that's not how someone phrases the imperative. I write it as if I was directly quoting them.

The challenge here is that it's not necessary to always back-shift reported speech into into the past tense, even if you heard it in the past. For example:

He said he is the best, but I don't believe it.

John's sister said they have guests at their house.

Everyone said this election is the craziest they've ever seen.

What these all have in common is that the reported speech could apply to something that is still true. Life could still be an idiot's tale, even if Shakespeare died many centuries before I ever heard Macbeth's opinion.

Which, unfortunately, might make you think that if I do use the past tense, whatever I'm talking about is no longer true. Sadly, that's not the case. English is, frequently, woefully, imprecise:

John's sister says they have guests at their house (The guests are still there)

John's sister says they had guests at their house (The guests have probably left).

John's sister said they have guests at their house (The guests are probably still there).

John's sister said they had guests at their house (The guests might have left, but might still be there)

Usually you can get more information from context, but sometimes you just have to ask someone to clarify what they mean.

Anyway, again, when reporting imperatives do use the present form -- but there is no should about using the simple past with reported speech. It's an option, but it's not required.

  • 3
    I'd say the original sentence, "Mother said don't trust strangers," is an informal way of making a direct quote. It merely lacks the usual comma after "said," the capitalization of "Don't," and the quotation marks around "Don't trust strangers."
    – David K
    Commented Oct 16, 2016 at 11:10

Since your example is an imperative sentence telling you not to trust strangers, the correct phrasing is

Mom said: don't (you) trust strangers!

Your second sentence

didn't you trust strangers

would be a question.

  • That isn't reported speech. Commented Mar 17, 2021 at 15:10

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