Direct speech - He said to me, "You are honest."

I've read from many sources where this narration is written in indirect speech as...

Indirect speech - He told me that I was honest.

So as a learner, my question is simple - since being honest is a quality and not an action or something like it, is my doubt valid that the indirect speech in the above example saying that the first person is not honest now?

  • Let's say the direct speech occurred at 4:00P Monday, and the indirect speech (i.e., the report of the direct speech) occurred two hours later at 6:00P. At 4:00P, using the a present-tense verb the speaker comments on the current honesty of somebody. The speaker is not talking about honesty at a later time, say 6:00P. To do that the speaker would have to use a future-tense verb. At 6:00P, when the reporter transposes the verb to the past tense, he is reporting the speaker's belief as of 4:00P, a belief which does not extend to 6:00P.
    – user105719
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 8:51
  • @user105719 so it's a assumption and totally depend on context. If I say to you now about your quality, "You are honest". After two hours you can't report it like, he told me that I was honest. If it's about your quality, you would say, He told me that I'm honest. It's not about honesty at a particular instant but a quality. Or is it different thing?
    – Garry302
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 9:45
  • Sorry, but I don't understand the distinction between honesty and quality. Both can change, no? I can be honest at 4:00P and it might be the case that I'm dishonest two hours later at 6. The indirect report of "You are honest (now)" is "[he said] I was honest (then)"
    – user105719
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 9:51
  • @user105719 Let's take another example: If I say "I'm a jolly person", it means that, independently of the context, I tend to be jolly. However, if I say "During the party, I was jolly", it means that in that particular context, I was jolly, but I could be grumpy most of the time.
    – William A.
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 10:11
  • @user105719 that's what I'm saying. If the speech is about tendency to be jolly, reported speech would be ' he said that he is jolly' if we write he was jolly, then it contradict the tendency. Same rule is applicable for being honest. If it's characteristic of a person to be honest, then reported speech would be in present tense, not past.
    – Garry302
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 10:17

1 Answer 1


Classically, the past tense has been used for indirect speech (e.g. He told me that I was honest), but that is changing. If the condition / quality / etc. expressed is known to be or likely to be still true, the present tense if often used nowadays (e.g. He told me that I am honest).

Therefore, depending on the context and on the age of the text, the sentence can mean "I was honest at a particular time" or "I am a honest person".

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