I was given a wrong number

Is this reported speech possible

"he said he was given a wrong number" (with no backshift) if it is reported 10 minutes after it was said . Would it be better to write "he said he had been given a wrong number" (because when we use past simple in reported speech we can think that the direct speech is in present.) However in this case the affirmation is still true so backshift should not be obligatory.

would it be the same problem with

"I was given a number" I think in this case the action is completed so it would be better to backshift

Is it a logical reasoning for you ?


1 Answer 1


When you report speech, you are describing the meaning of what was said. It common to backshift because the events that the person spoke of in the present are now in the past, and the events that the person spoke of in the past, must have occurred before the person was speaking.

John said "I went to the clothes shop and I'm wearing my new coat"

John said that he'd gone to the clothes shop and that he was wearing his new coat.

It is also correct to report speech in paraphrase

John said that he was wearing a coat that he'd just bought.

But when the person speaks a general fact using the simple present, then that fact is still true when the speech is reported:

John said "five is a prime number". / John said that five is a prime number.

There is no need to backshift, because we understand John to be stating a general fact.

With past tense to past perfect backshifts, you are describing events in the past. You can use past perfect to help establish the order of events, but it isn't mandatory. If John said "I was given a wrong number". You could report this as fact

John was given a wrong number

or hearsay

John said that he was given a wrong number.

you could backshift, but in such a simple sentence, it isn't essential

John said that he'd been given a wrong number.

That last one would be more likely if there was more to the story

John told me that he'd been given a wrong number by the girl he'd been talking too, but he met her in the street and it had actually been a genuine mistake! So they're going to go out again tonight.

  • 1
    Add to this the fact that English speakers often do not bother with the so-called "past perfect" if the temporal relationships are clear.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Mar 18 at 20:21

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