what should be the reported speech of the following sentence? 

John said, "Paul would help us if we needed a volunteer."

Should I report it this way?

John said that Paul would help us if we needed a volunteer.


John said that Paul would have helped us if we had needed a volunteer.

This site says "We can use a perfect form with have + -ed form after modal verbs, especially where the report looks back to a hypothetical event in the past."

The site also says modal verbs like would, should and might remain unchanged. Then which of my above answers is correct?

  • If you could still benefit from the help, if you still need a volunteer, don't cast it in the perfect. The perfect implies that the need is a thing of the past.
    – TimR
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 10:48

2 Answers 2



John said that Paul would help us ...

is fine. Also fine is a slight reduction of that:

John said Paul would help us ...

If you feel the need to stringently disambiguate your meaning, you could say

John said Paul would have helped us if we had needed a volunteer.

but this feels over-particular and may cloud the issue instead of clarifying it, since inevitably some users will struggle to connect the dots with your perfect tensification.


It's actually kind of reported speech of reported speech, isn't it? As you know, we usually backshift verbs when indirectly reporting speech, but you should only backshift once.

Your example is a little odd because it's not clear when Paul's help is needed. Logic says it's in the future, and so John is saying that Paul offered to help -- but in that case it seems more idiomatic to use need. The backshift to needed is what makes it sound like a direct quote of an indirect quote. Normal conversation isn't that complicated:

John said Paul would help us if we need a volunteer.

Still, needed is fine, and would likely pass without notice.

John said Paul would help us if we needed a volunteer.

Although your reference says otherwise, there is no reason to shift from the simple past to a perfect tense. The perfect tense is normally used to establish a relationship between two events in time. Your example is just a simple statement. Changing it to the perfect only makes it more confusing.

However, the perfect tense does work if the help was needed in the past, and John is only now telling me that Paul offered help at the time.

John said that Paul would have helped us if we had needed the help. Gee, thanks John, for not saying something sooner.

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