https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/conditionals-if https://dictionary.cambridge.org/grammar/british-grammar/reported-speech-indirect-speech?q=Reported+speech%3A+indirect+speech (Please skim the pages of the links above noting the styles of the illustrations.)

I figured that even though we use 'if' to suppose about unknown past and present, the grammar illustrates as if those usages didn't exist. I presume that it only illustrates the usages that we need to be careful with but in the wrong style, not including other usages except the ones it concentrates on(using the present tense in the if clause to refer to the future).

So, I made a theory(?) about the usage of the indirect speech. I'll give you an example below.

"He graduated from Havard last year. He majored in philosophy. And yesterday, Sarah told me that he (had also played/ also played) soccer then."

The current grammar says we should use 'had also majored', considering the tense of its main clause("told"), but I presume that the grammar especially illustrates the indirect speech and not other subordinate clauses, because there's something we need to be careful with it(changing the exact words of the speaker into an ordinary sentence), but it is just that it uses the wrong style of illustration, saying as if we must follow the function of the tense. I think we actually can use 'also played' as in other subordinate clauses, simply linking the tense with "graduated", which is not its main clause, if the time of "also played" is clear. Am I right? I would appreciate many opinions.

  • Yes, @Chaim, we can use had there, but we don't have to, and that's what the question is about. In speech, we often omit the had (or 'd) when the temporal relationships are clear. I agree that in your example you would say had, because of the contradistinction with the would. But in the following exchange Nobody's fed the fish!, reply John told me he fed the fish on Monday. I wouldn't expect the had.
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 17, 2020 at 22:51
  • @Chaim: But in my example, there is a sentence preceding 'And~then.' So, we should at least consider the possibility that the speaker of these sentences is concentrating on the time of 'graduated'. The situations are different. And also, I added the clause, 'if~clear'. Aug 17, 2020 at 22:55
  • Yes, I agree with you, too. It's just that the use of past perfect is optional in this case. Thank you, Chaim. (^.^) Aug 17, 2020 at 23:27
  • I agree, @Chaim
    – Colin Fine
    Aug 17, 2020 at 23:42

1 Answer 1


Suppose that last Tuesday, John said these words to me: "I fed your fish yesterday and I will feed them again tomorrow." I could report this to you as follows: "John told me on Tuesday that he HAD fed my fish on Monday and he WOULD feed my fish on Wednesday."

The words "had" and "would" are included to help you put these events in their correct order. Although they are all in the past by the time I relate them to you, the Monday event happened before John spoke to me, while the Wednesday event happened after John spoke to me. (Or at least that's what John would have us think.) These few words (used to inflect the verb) are a system for putting events into order in a more nuanced way than just distinguishing the past, present and future.

On the other hand, the word “had” can be omitted from some unambiguous contexts. Consider this passage. “John graduated from Harvard last year. He majored in philosophy. And yesterday, Sarah told me that John also played soccer then.” How would the passage change if we supplied the word “had” before “played”? I don’t think that it would change at all, because in that example the order of things is pretty clear.

  • Sorry for checking your answer so late, Chaim. I use English Language Learners through my computer, so I can't get any alarms if any. Anyway, thank you once more. My thoughts about the indirect speech are now completely arranged, thanks for you. Watch out for Coronas. Aug 19, 2020 at 21:08

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