I came across this pair of sentences in 'Cambridge English Preliminary for Schools Trainer' by Sue Elliott and Liz Gallivan CUP 2012:

Tom said he hadn't got any money. Tom said, 'I haven't got any money.'

with the task being : Change some more things that Tom said into direct speech.

The thing is I don't get it how present simple of 'have got' becomes past perfect of 'get' because they teach us in every single grammar book out there that a present simple verb becomes past simple (not past perfect) in indirect speech not mentioning the fact that the main verbs are plain different in both instances.

To make things more transparent here I should probably mention that the first sentence in past perfect was given while the second sentence with the direct speech was gapped and the answer key states that the correct option is 'haven't got'.

1 Answer 1


"I have got" and "I haven't got" are equivalent to simple present in meaning (= "I have" and "I haven't" respectively). But in terms of form or structure, they are clearly present perfect. "Got" here is formally a past participle (also called a perfect participle or passive participle).

Rules on backshift of tenses in reported speech

In reported speech, a simple present becomes a simple past, and a present perfect becomes a past perfect.

So the present perfect "I have got" becomes the past perfect "I had got". "I haven't got" becomes "I hadn't got" in reported speech.

Of course, instead of remembering two rules (that the simple present becomes the simple past, and that the present perfect becomes the past perfect in reported speech), you could ignore the participles completely and just remember that the present becomes the past in reported speech.


Reported speech is allowed to paraphrase. If someone says "I haven't got any money", I can choose whether to report that as "he said he hadn't got any money", "he said he hadn't any money" or "he said he didn't have any money", among other alternatives. In fact, if someone says "I ain't got no dough", it's still possible for me to report that as "he said he hadn't got any money".

Had got

The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddleston and Pullum) confirms that "had got" is less commonly found than "have got", but this isn't the same thing as saying it's never used or is unacceptable. I find it perfectly acceptable in the sentence "he said he hadn't got any money", and I can imagine I might utter such a sentence myself.

CGEL implies that you are right to regard to "have got" as equivalent to a simple present. While it notes that "have got" derives from the perfect, it also describes "had got" as the preterite form. "Preterite" is an exact synonym for what you call "past simple". So there you have it. As I've said before, you must either regard both "have got" and "had got" as simple, or you must regard both as perfect. You can't say that "have got" is simple but "had got" perfect; that denies the connection between them.

(Of course, in certain sentences, where the meaning is "have obtained"/"had obtained", they are semantically perfect as well as formally perfect. In that usage, AmE uses "gotten".)

Rarity of "had got" form - with crucial exceptions

You mentioned that your workbooks state that "have got" must become "had" in the past. This (at least the compulsory nature of it) is explicitly denied by CGEL. However, the workbooks' view receives some support from A Practical English Grammar (Oxford University Press, 1986). It lists "have (got)" as the present, but only "had" as the past. However, here is a crucial point: it lists the negative "haven't (got)" as having a corresponding past form "hadn't (got)", and the interrogative "have you (etc) (got)" as having a corresponding past form "had you (etc) (got)". So it explicitly recognises the possibility of including the "got" after negative and interrogative "had"s, just not after affirmative ones.

In "hadn't got any money", of course, "haven't got" and "hadn't got" are negative and therefore are allowed by the Practical English Grammar.

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    I know that "haven't got" means "do not possess", but formally (in terms of its formal syntax) it is present perfect. Anyway, as I said, why not ignore the participle and just look at the present "have", and observe that it shifts to "had" in reported speech? (I'm also not sure why you regard "hadn't got" as a perfect but not "haven't got". The same applies to both of them: semantically they aren't perfects, but syntactically they are.)
    – rjpond
    Sep 1, 2017 at 8:59
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    In other words: if you're ignoring the "got" and treating "I have (got)" as simply a "present simple", then why do you not equally ignore the "got" in "I had (got)"? It's inconsistent to regard the latter as past perfect and yet the former as "present simple". Either they are both simple or both perfect. (I say they are both perfect FWIW.)
    – rjpond
    Sep 1, 2017 at 10:09
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    Generally speaking, grammatical labels describe forms and structures rather than meanings. In any case, "I hadn't got" is the past of "I haven't got". "I hadn't got" means "I had not" or "I didn't have". If "haven't got" is simple then "hadn't got" must be so regarded too... (though I agree with userr2684291 that they are both perfects).
    – rjpond
    Sep 1, 2017 at 12:43
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    @Yukatan I'm not sure what you're trying to say, but the backshifted form of had(n't) got is also had(n't) got in BrE, so the original can be that. There doesn't have to be any "time markers" or whatever. I agree that the past simple of have got is usually just had, but a speaker of a BrE dialect knows best (and that's the person whose post you're commenting on), so I'd trust their judgement.
    – user3395
    Sep 1, 2017 at 13:36
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    First of all, I speak standard English. I don't speak a dialect in the sense of a non-standard or markedly local variety. I speak a dialect only in the sense that BrE and AmE are two dialects of English. Secondly, the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language confirms that "had got" can "certainly" mean "had", although the use of "had got" is less common than that of "have got". Thirdly, we also know that your workbook presented "had got" as the backshifted form of "have got". It's not the only option (in fact, reported speech is allowed to be a praphrase), but it's certainly an option.
    – rjpond
    Sep 1, 2017 at 17:53

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