Using Modal Verbs in Indirect Speech
Modal verbs use backshift when they are used in indirect speech. Backshift refers to the changing of a present tense in direct speech to a past tense in reported speech (or a past tense to a past perfect tense). Here is the backshift of modals on the table:
Will is a modal verb that is used to refer to future action. Here are the changes when it is used in an indirect speech:
direct speech: He said: "I
indirect speech: He said, he
Usually, we use the modal verb shall to talk about making offers or suggestions. When the direct sentence is used to refer to a future event, we should use would in the indirect speech, but when shall is used to make offers or suggestions we use should instead of shall in the indirect speech.
direct speech: He said, "
indirect speech: He asked if he
direct speech: Marco said: "I
indirect speech: Marco said he
We usually use the modal verb may to talk about possibilities. We can also use may to ask for or give permission. when we use may to talk about possibilities in direct speech, we use might as an alternative in indirect speech. If we use may to ask for permission or give permission then we should use could in indirect speech.
direct speech: Mania said, "I
indirect speech: Mania said she
direct speech: You asked,
indirect speech: You asked if you
The modal verb must is used particularly to imply obligation. When we want to show obligation in the indirect speech we can use had to or even must. Here are the examples:
direct speech: He said, "you
indirect speech: He said I
The only modal verbs that change when they are used in indirect speech are: will, shall, can, may, must. Check the backshifts on the table:
|would or should
|might or could
|had to or no change