Unit 8.2

Changes of Modal Verbs in Reported Speech

Syntax

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Introduction

Reported speech is when we want to report one person’s speech to another person, but we don’t use the exact words because we focus on the message rather than the exact words.

Some modals in reported speech also shift back in time just like tenses do.

Form

There are some modal verbs that change tense in reported speech.

The most commonly used are:

MODAL VERBS MODAL VERBS IN REPORTED SPEECH
Must (obligation) Had to
Can Could
May (possibility) Might
May (permission) Could
Will Would
Shall Should

NOTE: Modal verbs that do not change: could, might, must (speculation), need, ought, should and would.

Example

  • Mario stated that “I can use cold colours instead of warm colours”.Mario stated that he could use cold colours instead of warm colours.
  • “I may meet with my sister”, said my mother.My mother said that she might meet with her sister.
  • He said “My house must be located in Bordeaux”.He said that his house had to be located in Bordeaux.
  • They said “It must be hard to understand the algebra”.They said that it must be hard to understand the algebra.
  • He said ” If nuclear energy is used mistakenly, we shall die”.He said that If nuclear energy was used mistakenly, we should die.
  • Joe said that “I will fix the plug”.Joe said that he would fix the plug.

Use

In reported speech we use some modal verbs one tense back.

After modal verbs we can also use the perfect tense of the verbs. We use them in a hypothetical, past sentence.

Summary

Some modals in reported speech also shift back in time just like tenses do. After modal verbs we can also use the perfect tense of the verbs. We use them in a hypothetical, past sentence.

The most commonly used modals that change tense in reported speech are: must (when expressing obligation) ⇒ had to, can ⇒ could, may (when expressing possibility) ⇒ might, may (when expressing permission) ⇒ could, will ⇒ would and shall ⇒ should.

For example:
— “You must finish the test in an hour”, said the teacher ⇒ The teacher said that they had to finish the test in an hour.
— “I would help you if you needed my help”, Maria said. ⇒ Maria said that she would have helped me if I had needed her help. = We use the perfect tense have helped after would because we have a hypothetical past tense.

NOTE: Modal verbs that do not change: could, might, must (speculation), need, ought, should and would.

Let’s revise this content within the {Form} section. Take a look at the {Example} section that shows its use within a context.

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