— "If I could have gone to college I would have done this."

How would you report this speech? I would do it the following way. But note that nothing actually changes in the verbs and I can't think of any way to make a change.

— "He said that if he could have gone to college he would have done this."

  • 2
    That's right. The language has no double past inflection or construction. But does it really need one? Dec 9, 2013 at 19:38

1 Answer 1


You can actually change the verbs here to indicate reported speech; although you may change the meaning.

He said that had he gone to college, he would have done this.

This changes the conditional aspect of the statement slightly. It removes the implication of the lack of opportunity, so it transforms the meaning subtly. This says nothing, one way or the other, about whether this person faced barriers in obtaining an education.

He said that had he had the opportunity to go [to have gone] to college, he would have done this.

And while this is closer to the original statement semantically, it's a tad awkward with had had.

He said that, had he the opportunity to go [to have gone] to college, he would have done this.

Had he had the opportunity and had he the opportunity are semantically equivalent to if he could have, but they might be more awkward.

And to go is much less awkward in my examples, but to have gone is also grammatical. I included have gone in brackets because it's obviously more reflective of the speech being attributed.

By the way, I'd suggest using would have done so for the reported speech. It's just a more common usage, but it's your choice.

  • I like the way "had he gone to college" sounds. It sounds perfectly natural, and much better than what I originally thought (and didn't dare to post), He said that if he were able to have gone to college, he would have done this, which is pretty awkward imho. Dec 10, 2013 at 8:06
  • @DamkerngT. I actually prefer had he and had he had to if he had as well, but it's just my personal preference (I also prefer should/could he to if he should/could). If is actually extraneous in conditionals. But I think that because this is reported speech, it needs to stay closer to the original; otherwise, in much the same way, your sentence could be written as Were he able to attend college, he would have done this/it/so. The only thing wrong with your sentence, in essence, is that it's not quite what was originally said. Dec 10, 2013 at 23:20

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