Backshift

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(Redirected from Backshifting)

Backshifting (/bækʃɪftɪŋ(g)/) or backshift (/bækʃɪft/) occurs in indirect reported speech by changing verbs in the present tense to the aspect-corresponding past tense following a preterite of a reporting verb.[1]

For example instead of:

  • "Dave said he is not going out tonight because he has got a lot of work to do and wants to finish it".

We usually say:

  • "Dave said he was not going out tonight because he had got a lot of work to do and wanted to finish it."

Form[edit | edit source]

Sometimes backshift is required; at other times it is optional.

Optional backshift[edit | edit source]

Optional backshift occurs in things that are general truths, i.e. general time. For example:

  • Alice to Bob: "There are eight planets in the Solar System."
  • Bob to Charlie: (without backshift): Alice said there are eight planets in the Solar System (or with backshift) Alice said there were eight planets in the Solar System.

Mandatory backshift[edit | edit source]

Backshift should occur when something is in past finish time, though it wasn’t when originally stated. For example:

  • Alice to Bob: "I’m eating dinner now."
  • Bob to Charlie: "Alice said she was eating dinner then." but not *"Alice said she is eating dinner then".

Application[edit | edit source]

This applies to all finite verbs, including auxiliary verbs, and independent lexical verbs. In turn, the auxiliary verbs include full modal verbs, e.g. can -> could, will -> would, etc.

Miscellaneous points[edit | edit source]

This is one instance when the past tense can be used to talk about future time.

Pedagogy[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]