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Let' say someone tells you the following about another person called George:

George was a good guy.

If this person means that George was a good guy but he no longer is, do I have to backshift the sentence when making it into indirect speech?:

He told me George had been a good guy.

or can I also say

He told me George was a good guy.

I suppose I can't because in this discussion, someone says saying

No matter what you say, I assure you I think that the evening we spent together had been fantastic.

is wrong, and that we should say:

No matter what you say, I assure you I think that the evening we spent together was fantastic.

I thought we had to backshift past simple in that clauses. Is this exclusive to the verb 'be', or is it optional to backshift?

  • If George isn't a good guy now (or, wasn't at the time of utterance), it's more likely that you were told "George used to be a good guy". If so, your backshifting problem wouldn't arise. – Gary Botnovcan Nov 29 '19 at 0:00
  • Indirect speech? Then, it's "He told me that George had been a good guy." – Maulik V Nov 29 '19 at 2:10
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1) George was a good guy.

You're correct about this: George was a good guy in the past. This can connote either he's not a good guy any longer, or he's dead, or the context in which George existed has ended (for example he was a character in a television show you've finished watching).

2) He told me (that) George had been a good guy.
3) He told me (that) George was a good guy.

These are two completely different tenses. You can use either, and they are both correct, but they have different meanings. (The word "that" can be present or not; at some point in the past it would have been "conversational" use to omit it, but it is more common to do so now.)

The first, "had been a good guy", means that at some definite point in the past, the subject told the speaker that George "had been a good guy" during some unspecified interval or ongoing time frame /before that point/.

The second simply means at some point in the past, the subject asserted George's goodness; it's simply the past tense of "He tells me George is a good guy."

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