He said, "I was asleep when the postman came."

He said that he was asleep when postman came.

Can you clarify to me why the sentence in the reported-speech form is not transformed in the past perfect? The information was given in the past. The very event about which we are informed than in the more distant past so why is there no tense change? Why do not we apply here the rules for backshifting?

  • "Rules" are extrapolated from observation of the behavior of native speakers. Many native speakers do not backshift to the past perfect in reported speech. I would be inclined to say that most do not. Some native speakers rarely use the past perfect under any circumstances. Feb 1 '16 at 13:58

The first sentence should be I was asleep when the postman came.
So now the reported speech is He said he was asleep when the postman came.

The backshift is not used as long as it's clear the time when the past action happened. For instance, my Mum said she was in her aunt's home when the accident happened. (NOT ... she had been ...)


I think the second sentence should be 'He said that he had been asleep when postman came.' Where/in what context did you read 'He said that he was asleep when postman came.'?

  • The sentence comes from one of my grammar book. But there is no explanation there.
    – bart-leby
    Jan 31 '16 at 17:56
  • If the first sentence was "I am asleep..." (Literally impossible but we sometimes say this when disturbed whilst trying to sleep): To put this into reported speech we would say "He said that he was asleep". Applying this to your second sentence, the first sentence would be "He said 'I am asleep when the postman came'". It doesn't work, does it? Jan 31 '16 at 18:05

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