John said that Bill was ill.

Does this sentence indicate that Bill's illnes is only simultaneous with John's statement? Thus Bill was ill in the past, in the moment when John was saying this. And if I wanted to express the fact that Bill is still ill (in the present time) I would have to say "John said that Bill is ill".

  • 130 posts tagged reported speech. – rogermue Jul 8 '15 at 14:15
  • 2
    You are reporting what John said. You should not use John's past report to report something that you know to be true now. Since John reported in the past, it is unlikely that he reported that at a given moment in the future (relative to when he said it), Bill would be ill. Unless, maybe, if John is Bill's doctor (or if John is poisoning Bill). – oerkelens Jul 8 '15 at 14:49

In your example, all verbs are in the past and Bill was still ill at the moment that John said so:

John said that Bill was ill.

However, at the moment that you are saying this, Bill may not be ill anymore, that is unsure. In case you want to express Bill's illness both at the moment John said so AND at the moment that you reported this, the following construction is needed:

John said that Bill is ill.

In this sentence, Bill is still ill at present.

To express that Bill's illness was over both before you or John spoke, you can say:

John said that Bill had been ill.

In this sentence, Bill is not ill at the moment of speaking, nor was he ill at the moment John spoke. He had been ill before John talked about it.

  • 1
    You are right, I changed it. – Sander Jul 8 '15 at 18:40

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