Change of tense in subordinate clause in reported speech when principle clause is in future tense


Joe: "I will clean my room when I get home"

Should I shift the tense in the subordinate clause in indirect speech?

Joe said he would clean his room when he gets home.

Also, does it make any difference if Joe has cleaned his room by the moment of speaking or whether he still has a plan to get home and clean it?


Posted 2017-02-26T01:58:29.587

Reputation: 123

"Gets" is not the past tense of "get", so you haven't backshifted the tense (all you've done is change the person from 1st person to 3rd person). An accurate report of the original utterance would be "Joe said he would clean his room when he got home" ("get has been backshifted to "got"). I don't understand your last question. If Joe said he would clean his room when he got home, that asserts that he had not cleaned it at the time of his utterance. – BillJ – 2017-02-26T08:24:37.960

Don't confuse your principals with your principles. – Ronald Sole – 2017-02-26T12:18:25.460



You can also report that direct statement by Joe afterwards as follows:

Joe said he would clean his room when he got home.

Whether there will be a shift of tense depends on the context.

Let's say two parents are bickering over their son's messy room. Joe is on the phone (speaker phone), and the parents are speaking with him in a three-way conversation at this moment:

Dad: Joe, your room is a terrible mess. There are potato chips all over the floor, and one of your textbooks has Coca Cola spilled all over it.

Joe: Dad, I will clean my room when I get home. I am going to a movie with my friends first.

Dad: I want you to come home from wherever you are and clean this room now!

Mom: Let him go to the movies with his friends. Joe said he will clean his room when he gets home.

Now let's say the parents are speaking about that incident a week later.

Mom: When I said that we should let Joe go to the movies with his friends, you got very angry.

Dad: He said he would clean his room when he got home. I wanted him home that very minute! We work very hard to afford this place, and he seems to have no respect or appreciation for that.

If the reported speech is simply echoing what has just been said a moment ago, as in the first scenario, there might be no shift of tense, or there might be a shift of tense. It is when the speaker thinks of the utterance as a past utterance that the shift happens. The perception of pastness could happen instantly:

He just said a second ago that he would clean his room when he got home.

In the first scenario, Mom is Joe's advocate, and that role could also affect her choice of tense subconsciously. She is, in effect, repeating Joe's words quasi-verbatim as Joe's proxy in the argument with Dad.


Posted 2017-02-26T01:58:29.587

Reputation: 116 610

Very good answer!!! Tackling the problem from varied points of views. This answers my question, too. A big thanks to you!!! – vincentlin – 2020-04-29T10:18:38.100


Your sentence is correct

Joe said he would clean his room when he gets / comes / arrives home.

The tenses do not matter if Joe's room is already cleaned when he said this. That is a different problem than reported speech.


Posted 2017-02-26T01:58:29.587

Reputation: 63 575