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Jacob said to Jane, “I was absolutely furious.”

What will be the answer in indirect speech?

Rule says ‘was’ (simple past) will be converted to past perfect.

According to this rule the answer will be

Jacob told Jane that he had absolutely furious.

But it looks strange while speaking. According to me the answer will be

Jacob told Jane that he was absolutely furious.

But it contradicts the above rule.

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    What rule? Note that Jacob told Jane that he had absolutely furious isn'rt even valid English, let alone an example of Past Perfect. That would be Jacob told Jane that he had been absolutely furious, which is valid but "unlikely" unless we contrive some context within which he was furious before some other contextually relevant time also in the past. Mar 19, 2021 at 15:26
  • to be furious, not to have furious. Please correct your question.
    – Lambie
    Mar 19, 2021 at 15:38
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    @FumbleFingers I don't see that it's so unlikely, if Jacob is describing a previous occasion when he was furious - but of course it should be had been, as you say. Mar 19, 2021 at 15:46

1 Answer 1

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Rule says was( simple past ) will be converted to past perfect .

It's not a rule per se. It's commonly taught as a rule to students who are just getting to know the idea of reported speech that "in reported speech, tenses get backshifted", but it's a simplification of the underlying concept - that if you're reporting what someone has said and not quoting them directly, you relay their words in tenses related to you, not the speaker.

This often results in a change of tense, if the conditions have changed between the time of speaking and the time of reporting:

A week ago, John said "I am hungry". (direct quote in Simple Present - at the time of speaking, John is hungry)

A week ago, John said that he was hungry. (reported speech in Simple Past - at the time of speaking John is hungry, at the time of reporting he presumably isn't hungry anymore)

But if you're relaying recent events, or otherwise want to indicate that what you're reporting still applies, you do not have to backshift the tense:

A week ago, John said "I am a doctor". (direct quote in Simple Present - at the time of speaking, John is a doctor)

A week ago, John said that he is a doctor. (reported speech also in Simple Present - he's still a doctor at the time of reporting, so no point in making it a past tense)

The Simple Past to Past Perfect shift in particular is rarely necessary - if you only care that the reported event happened in the past as related to you, and not that it also happened in the past as related to the speaker, or if the sequence of events is evident from the context, you can just use Simple Past:

In today's meeting, John said "I found a bug in the code". (direct quote in Simple Past - John found the bug at some point before the meeting)

In today's meeting, John said that he found a bug in the code. (reported speech also in Simple Past - you don't care exactly when he found it, just that he did at some point)

During his introduction, John said "I left my previous job for personal reasons". (direct quote in Simple Past - John left his job before he took up the current one)

During his introduction, John said that he left his previous job for personal reasons. (reported speech also in Simple Past - the sequence of events is obvious from context)

You could use Past Perfect in either of the above examples, but it wouldn't be necessary unless for some reason you wanted to emphasize - not just indicate - that those things you're reporting on happened before the time of speaking.

So, in your example:

  • you could use Simple Past in the reported part if the context makes it obvious enough when Jacob was furious (for example, you've already discussed what he was furious about, when it happened, and when he found out). Past Perfect would also be correct in that case, but it would be somewhat redundant.
  • you could also use Simple Past if it doesn't really matter when exactly Jacob was furious, just that he was at some previous point in time. A lot of reported speech will fall into that - you can use Simple Past (relating the event to your own past) instead of Past Perfect (relating the event to the speaker's past) without a significant difference in meaning. (Again - you can use Past Perfect to be precise, too, but to some it would be overly precise).
  • you have to use Past Perfect if you want to emphasize that Jacob had been furious at a point before he spoke to Jane, but that he wasn't at the point when he was speaking (and there's not enough context to recover that information from).
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  • This is a good description of what is really happening in backshifting(+1). Could you also explain how it applies to the OP's situation "John said to Jane, "I was furious""
    – James K
    Mar 19, 2021 at 21:39
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    @JamesK I went on a rant and forgot about the question :) Edited. Mar 19, 2021 at 22:13
  • "On today's meeting, John said" -- For me, BrEng, "In" a meeting, "on" a conferance call, but never "on" a meeting. Mar 19, 2021 at 22:45

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