I was wondering if I could use 'reported speech' grammar when I want to report what I said in the past. For instance,


present: me: We have not met each other. person A: Yes, you are right.

later: me: I told you we have not met or we had not met

Which one is correct have not or had not?


present: person A: They called me today and said if I don't take my parcel,they would send it back.

person B: Really?

later: me: Person A said if he doesn't or didn't take his parcel, they would send it back.

Which one is correct doesn't or didn't?

I appreciate your help.

2 Answers 2


(1) If the conversation was face-to-face, you would say later "I told you we had not met," meaning 'we had not met until then'. If the conversation was by telephone or online and you still have not met one another in person, it would be possible to use "have not".

(2) I would expect A to say "If I don't collect my parcel, they will send it back." How you report it later depends on whether A has collected the parcel yet!

If he has not: "A said if he doesn't collect his parcel they will send it back."

If he has: "A said if he didn't collect his parcel they would send it back, [so he went straight away]."


When is backshifting optional?

The issue in both of the OP examples is whether or not to change the tense.

When a speaker changes direct speech to reported speech, he or she will see that many changes take place. These changes can include modifications to pronouns, time adverbials, and most often, verb tense. It is this change in verb tense which is referred to as ‘backshifting’. Backshifting happens when a verb tense is shifted back to a past form in reported speech.

Rules" of Backshifting (I.g - Move one tense back to the past; eg. - Present Simple -> Past simple)

When do we use backshift? We use backshift when it is logical to use backshift. So, for example, if two minutes ago John said "I am hungry" and I am now telling his sister, I might NOT use backshift (because John is still hungry):

John just said that he is hungry. But if yesterday John said "I am hungry" and I am now telling his sister, I would likely use backshift:

Yesterday, John said that he was hungry.

[We hope that John has eaten since yesterday ;-) ] So we use backshift SOMETIMES but not always.

Please note the two situations when backshifting is optional:

1. If a situation is still true, backshift is optional.

2. For a general truth there is no need for backshift.

It depends on the situation whether to backshift or not.

Case 1 : Repeated Speech. It is not understood why you should repeat the statement even after 'A' had accepted that.

It is entirely up to you whether or not to backshift when you are retelling your own words to the same individual A. Both 'we have not met or we had not met' is correct.

Case 2: If a situation is still true backshift is optional.

It is assumed that a consignment arrived for 'A' and the conversation is between A and the courier company. Suppose you and 'A' are colleagues and 'A' left immediately without informing the boss and asked you to explain the situation to your boss. You can say, "They (the courier company) told him that if he doesn't take his parcel, they would send it back.


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