She said, "I'll call you when I get off work." - Direct speech

She said she'd call me when she got off work. - Reported speech

Is the above example correct grammatically?

At what points do we choose not to backshift the tenses in reported speech? Could we do that anytime we want without worry whether it'd be grammatically wrong? Or should I try to backshift tenses in reported speech always?

  • If it's not "direct speech" (with quote marks around the exact words as spoken), you can only choose not to backshift (She said she'll call me when she gets off work) if you're saying this at some point before she finishes work. If it's later than that (regardless of whether she did in fact call or not) you must backshift. Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 16:27
  • If i choose to backshift knowing she hasn't got off work yet, that'd be okay right? So long as she doesn't get off work, i could backshift the tenses to the past, or i could keep them in the present tense, right? Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 16:53
  • Perhaps I didn't express myself well. You can always choose to backshift, regardless of whether you're speaking before or after the time (in her future) that she was referring to. But you can't choose not to backshift after that time (i.e. if she finishes work at 5:00pm, you can't use the non-backshifted She said she'll call me when she gets off work at 9:00pm unless there are strong contextual reasons for supposing that on this particular occasion she's working very late, so she still hasn't finished). Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 16:53
  • Okay. Thanks. I have a few more questions concerning the usage of the second conditional, do you think you could help me out answering my questions for me? Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 16:56
  • Sure, if you post them as Questions here on ELL. Note that I haven't posted an actual Answer on this page because (1) I wouldn't be surprised to discover it's a duplicate, and (2) it's possible there are exceptions to the things I've asserted in my comments. I haven't meaningfully studied things like this since I was at school many decades ago (and even then, not much). I just speak and write English as a native. Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 17:04

1 Answer 1


Your sentence is correct.

Backshift is not needed when reporting general truths.

Backshift is optional when the situation is still true. E.g.:

“I want a new dog.”

They said they wanted a new dog. (1)

They said they want a new dog. (2)

(1) might either mean they want a new dog or it might mean that they don't want a new dog anymore (maybe they've gotten one, or have changed their mind, ...).

(2) means they want a new dog.

In general, use backshift unless the situation is still true, in which case you can choose.

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