Here is a real case I have met in my workplace.

Staff A: Is the goddamn pigeon dead?

Manager: What's happened? (turn to me)

Me: ...Staff A asked me to check if the annoying pigeon is dead.

I am not sure whether it is grammatically correct to use present tense in the above reported speech, becasue some English teacher said this:

But, if the reporting verb is in the past tense, then usually we change the tenses in the reported speech.


Should I say this instead?

Staff A asked me to check if the annoying pigeon had been dead.

  • 1
    It's grammatically correct. There is no reason to use the past perfect unless you are asking about the state of the pigeon in the past. Use the simple present. Aug 1, 2016 at 20:14
  • 5
    At the very most, you would say "Staff A asked me to check if the annoying pigeon was dead."... there's no reason to use "had been". Regardless, unless the pigeon has the ability to come back from the dead, it is still dead, so present tense makes total sense.
    – Catija
    Aug 1, 2016 at 20:19
  • 1
    You could also say, "...asked me to check if the annoying pigeon had died."
    – J.R.
    Aug 1, 2016 at 21:28
  • 1
    @Catija Perhaps the manager's name is Schrödinger. Aug 1, 2016 at 21:35
  • 1
    Just to clarify: your version "had been dead" is definitely wrong. (But "is dead" and "was dead" are both OK here.)
    – TonyK
    Aug 1, 2016 at 22:18

1 Answer 1


"[the pigeon] has been dead" means, the pigeon has experienced death, and by implication, is now alive -- not ungrammatical, but odd sounding, and not the meaning that you intended.

Instead just use simple present "... is dead": The state of the pigeon is unchanging through the present and into the future. Unchanging states often use the simple present.

Alternatives: "... was dead" - Allowed, understood as a casting into the past tense for reported speech. More likely if reporting speech that hadn't just occurred. "Yesterday Jack asked if the pigeon was dead..."

"had died" since "to be dead" means the same as "to have died". Since the death would have occurred before the speech, the past perfect is appropriate.

[Been thinking about this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vuW6tQ0218 ]

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