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In this link you will see that this ELL book does not change the words of time

I joined the company three years ago

The reported speech version is:

He said that he had joined the company three years ago

I checked Swan's PEU section 274.4 and didn't find any comments about whether it is optional or necessary to change these words. I understand that it is optional to backshift if the situation is still true. But once you opt to backshift I believe you should change the time words too and not just the verbs. Am I correct?

And on another page of the same book mentioned above, they didn't change the future words either.

We can deliver next week

Reported version:

He said (that) they could deliver next week

Is there a rule one could use?

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The 'rule' is that you change temporal references if the facts require it.

For instance, ago designates a timespan whose end lies at ‘Speech time’ (ST), the time a speech is uttered. If the STs of the speech and the report lie within the same timeframe, there is no need to adjust the reference:

“I joined the company three years ago.”
Mr. Jones said yesterday that he joined the company three years ago.

But if the STs of the speech and the report lie within different timeframes, the reference may have to be adjusted.

“I joined the company three years ago.”
Mr. Jones said in 1993 that he had joined the company three years before. —or ‘previously’ or ‘earlier’ or something of the sort.

“I joined the company exactly three years ago, to the day.”
Mr. Jones said yesterday that he had joined the company exactly three years before, to the day.

Other terms which refer to ST Terms—tomorrow, yesterday, last year, next week—similarly require adjustment when STs get out of synch.

“We can deliver next week.”
He said this morning that they can deliver next week.
He said two weeks ago that they could deliver the next week. or ‘the following week’, OR
He said two weeks ago that they could deliver last week.

  • +1 Now English reported speech makes sense; not mechanical anymore as I saw it one day! Always great answers. That "last week" thingy is a great tip! Thank you – learner Nov 8 '14 at 15:31
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It is better to think about reported speech as reporting information somebody gave you, not as reporting words that someone told you. When you give somebody else - a new listener - that information, it must make sense to the listener now.

Consider the Original Poster's example. Lets us give a date that the original information was provided

We can deliver next week. (Said on the Monday 1st February)

He said they could deliver next week.

Now suppose it is still 1st February. You want to tell your friend what the company said. The potential delivery time is still next week. When you give the information to your friend you will still say next week, as in the example above.

Now suppose it is Monday 7th February and you want to tell a friend what the company said. The information that the company gave you was that the potential delivery time was in the week 7th-13th February. Today is the 7th of February. When you give the information to your friend, you will have to say this week, because this is the week of the potential delivery:

He said they could deliver this week.

Now suppose it is July, several months later. You want to tell a friend about the information you were given when you tried to buy the sofa in February (even though you did not buy the sofa). The information must be true, it must make sense to your friend now. The potential delivery date was 7th-13th February. You spoke to the company on 1st February. But we don't really care about the actual dates! We can help the listener understand which week by saying the following week. This just means the week after the time we are thinking about. The time we are thinking about is the time when the conversation happened:

He said they could deliver it the following week.

This is fine, because it still makes sense to your listener now.

If the information you were given makes sense to your listener now, your sentence will always be grammatical. It doesn't matter what words the first speaker used. It happens exactly the same way in your language too!

I hope this helps!

  • @Thank you..I would like to ask if we say " this week" instead of "next week" and if we mention it many months later , it is correct to say just " that week" as in " he said they could deliver it that week" ..how about " in that week" ..? I have also asked a question recently related to reported speech – Mrt Apr 16 '16 at 13:46

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