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Indirect speech

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Statements, questions, and commands are turned into reported speech according to some rules. We use direct speech whenever we speak. We use the term “direct speech” to describe the way we represent the spoken word in waiting.

Form of direct speech in writing

Actual spoken statement direct statement in writing

“I’m waiting.” “I’m waiting”, John said.

Actual spoken question direct question in writing

When did you arrive, John? “When did you arrive, John?”, Mary asked.

Quotation marks (or inverted commas “..”) go round what is actually spoken and enclose other punctuation marks such as commas (,) and full-stops (.), question-marks (?) and exclamation marks (!). They may be single ( ‘....’) or double (“....”) and they are placed high above the word at the beginning and end of each quotation:

“Is that you Jane?” Bob asked.

What is said, plus reporting verb (usually say, ask, tell) and its subject (the one who said, asked, told something), is considered as a whole unit. When the subject + reporting verb comes at the beginning of the sentence, the reporting verb is always followed by a comma and the quotation begins with a capital letter:

John said, “It’s good to see you.”

When the subject + reporting verb comes after what is said, the quotation has a comma before the second question mark:

“It’s good to see you,” John said.

But if the quotation ends with an exclamation mark or a question mark, a comma is not used as well:

“Where can I get a taxi?” John asked.

Subject + verb can come in the middle of a quotation-sentence:

“Where, in this wretched town,” John said, “can I get a taxi?”

The second part of the question does not begin with a capital letter because it is not a separate sentence.

Noun + reporting verb may be in subject + verb order or may be inverted (verb + subject)

“This is a serious offence”, the judge said OR said the judge.

If the subject is too long then inversion is usual:

“Where’s this train going?” asked the lady sitting beside me.

With a pronoun as subject, inversion is rare in modern English:

“This is a serious offence”, he said.

Some reporting verbs, particularly those requiring an object, such as assure, inform and tell cannot be inverted. Adverbs of manner usually come at the end:

“Go away!”, said Mr. Johns. OR said Mr. Johns angrily.

We use indirect speech (also called reported speech) when we are telling someone what another person says or said. The reporting verb (for example say, tell, ask) may be in the present or past (most often in the past) and the tenses of the reported statement are often (but not always) affected by this. Compare these:

- actual spoken statement: “I can see him now.”

- direct statement in writing: “I can see him now”, the boss says/ said.

- indirect statement (present): The boss says (that) he can see you now.

- Indirect statement (past): The boss said (that) he could see you now.

We can see that the indirect statement actually represents repeating someone else’s words. This way of repeating words is not repeating speaker’s actual words, but repeating them in our own way. There are some changes that are obligatory when we use indirect speech:

I changes into she/he

Here à there

This à that

These à those

Yesterday à the day before/ previous day

Tomorrow à the next day

Tonight à that night/ that evening

Ago à before

Today à that day

This is obligatory because it may happen that we don’t repeat these words in the same place or immediately after the speaker tells them.

Reporting verbs

The commonest reporting verbs in both direct and indirect speech are say, tell and ask. Many other verbs can be followed by that or if or whether and can serve as reporting verbs. These three verbs do not follow the same pattern, the most important thing to remember is that tell must be followed by a personal indirect object (tell somebody..). Say can be followed by an optional to + the person who is addressed:

“You haven’t got much time,” he told me/ he said to me.

Ask can be followed by an indirect object

“Are you comfortable?” he asked (me).

Reporting verb in present

Affirmative sentences (statements)

After say and tell + object in statements that is usually omitted. But after other reporting verbs, such as complain, explain, object, point out etc. that must be used.

When turning direct statements into reported we must be careful about the use of the pronoun. Thus, for instance, the direct statement “ I lost my umbrella” may be turned into reported speech in various ways, depending on who reports:

He says that he lost him umbrella.

You say that you lost your umbrella.

I say that I lost my umbrella. Etc

When it comes to statements with reporting verb in PRESENT (say, think, ask, tell.... etc) we can, but we are not obliged to use the conjunctionthat which means that it can be omitted. The most important thing is that with reporting verbs in PRESENT there is NO TENSE CHANGE in indirect speech!

Direct: He says: “This work is too difficult.”

Indirect: He says (that) this work is too difficult.

Direct: My mother says: “I have just arrived home.”

Indirect: My mother says that she has just arrived home.

Be careful about the use of the following verbs:

- The infinitive cannot be used after suggest and say: He suggested that they should run. He said that they should run. (*He suggested/said to run...)

- After tell we must use an object: He told us that he was a student.

Questions

There are two types of questions in reported speech. The first one is when we have the wh-question word at the beginning of the question under the quotation marks. Wh-question words are: when, where, who, what, how, how often, how long, which, why...etc.

Direct: He asks:”What do you want to eat?”

Indirect: He asks what I want to eat.

As we can see in the example above we have sentence in direct speech with a reporting verb in present and thus the tense in the indirect speech is same. We also have wh-word what which is repeated in indirect speech. And finally in indirect speech there is no question anymore, the sentence turns into a statement, affirmative sentence. (NOT *He asks what do I want to eat.) The only exception is wh-word who:

He asks: “Who is this guy?”

He asks who is that guy.

The second type is when we don’t have the wh-question word in the beginning of the question under the quotation mark, but we have a regular question starting with inversion. In this case we are obliged to use conjunction if or whether in the indirect speech:

Direct: He asks: “Do you live in London?”

Indirect: He asks if I live in London.

To emphasize once more: If the reporting verb in indirect speech is in the present, the tenses that follow are usually the same as those used in the original spoken statement. This is often the case when we report words that have just been spoken:

“I’ve read Tony’s book and I don’t understand it.”

Jim says/ tells me (that) he has read Tony’s book and doesn’t understand it.

“I’ve read Tony’s book and I didn’t understand it.

Jim says/ tells me (that) he has read Tony’s book and didn’t understand it.

Commands (exclamatives)

In sentences like these, there is no tense change either with reporting verb in present or in past. No matter which tense does the reporting verb bears, we only add the infinitive of the verb when we make the indirect speech of commands and exclamatives:

He said: “Go away!”

He said (to me) to go away.

He shouts at his son: “Do your homework!”

He shouts at his son to do his homework.

“Run!”

He ordered them to run.

He advised them to run.

“Don’t run!”

He advised them not to run.

He told them not to run.

“Stay with us.”

She invited me to stay with them.

“Don’t drink any water after running!”

Mother warned us not to drink any water after running. OR

We were warned not to drink any water after running.

“Yes, I hit him in the jaw!”

He admitted (that) he had hit John in the jaw.

These are some examples where the direct speech sentence lacks reporting verb, so we have to introduce it on our own in the indirect speech sentence. In this case we’ve introduced one in the past time and thus the tense change from hit to had hit.

Reporting verbs in the past

Indirect statements with tense change

When we have reporting verb in the past (said, told, asked....etc.) we have to do TENSE CHANGE. The tense from the direct statement shifts backwards when we make indirect speech.

DIRECT SPEECH INDIRECT SPEECH

PRESENT SIMPLE TENSE à PAST SIMPLE TENSE

Tom:”I need to go to the bank” Tom said (that) he needed to go to the bank.

PRESENT CONTINUOUS TENSE à PAST CONTINUOUS TENSE

Pam:”I am waiting for Anna.” Pam said (that) she was waiting for Anna.

PRESENT PERFECT TENSE à PAST PERFECT TENSE

I’ve moved to another flat.” Sylvia said (that) she had moved to another flat.

PRESENT PERFECT CONTINUOUS TENSE à PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS TENSE

“I have been waiting for hours.” She said that she had been waiting for hours.

PAST SIMPLE TENSE à PAST PERFECT TENSE (or stays same)

“I moved to another flat.” She said that she had moved/ moved to another flat.

PAST CONTINUOUS TENSE à PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS TENSE

“I was waiting for you.” She said that she had been waiting for me.

PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS TENSE ---- stays same

“I had been waiting for hours before you arrived.” She said that she had been waiting for hours before I arrived.

MODALS CHANGE:

WILL à WOULD “I will help you with that.” He said that he would help me with this.

CAN à COULD “I can see you tomorrow.” He said that he could see me the next day.

MAY à MIGHT “ “I may call her tonight.” She told me that she might call her tonight.

MUST à HAD TO “You must do as you’re told.” She told me that I had to do as I was told.

SHALL à WOULD “I shall tell him exactly what I think,” she said. She said that she would tell him exactly what she thought.

(When shall is used with future reference for prediction, speculation, etc. it becomes would)

SHALL à SHOULD “Shall I speak to him in person?” She asked whether she should speak with him in person.

(When shall is used in offers, suggestions, or requests for advice it becomes should )

IS/ARE GOING TO à WAS/ WERE GOING TO

“I am going to visit her tomorrow.” She said that she was going to visit her the next day.

In indirect speech we do not usually repeat the speaker’s exact words. Reporting usually takes place in the past, so the reporting verb is often in the past. As a result, the tenses of the reported clause are usually “moved back.” This “moving back” of tenses is called backshift. A useful general rule is “present becomes past and past becomes past perfect.” Past modals and the past perfect tenses are unchanged when reported, since no further backshift is possible (should, could, might, would stay same) We must normally use the past perfect to report a statement whose verb was in the present perfect:

“I have lived in the south for years,” Mrs Duncan said.

Mrs Duncan told me that she had lived in the south for years.

If the verb in the original direct speech statement was in the past simple tense, we do not usually need to change it to the past perfect, unless we want to emphasise that one event happened before another:

“I lived in Scotland in the 1970s”, Mrs Duncan said.

Mrs Duncan said that she (had) lived in Scotland in the 1970s.

Mrs Duncan said that she had lived in Scotland in the 1970s before she moved to the south.

Also pronouns change, or not, depending on the view of the reporter:

“I’ll send you a card, Sue.” (actual words spoken by Ann)

Ann told Sue that she would send her a card. (reported by someone else)

Ann said/ told me that she would send me a card. ( reported by Sue)

I told Sue (that) I would send her a card. (reported by Ann herself)

Some typical pronoun changes are:

I à he/ she

We à they

Mine à his, hers

Me/you à him/ her

Us à them

Ours à theirs

My à his/her

Our à their

Myself à himself, herself

It is often necessary to make time and place changes in relation to tense changes. For example, on Tuesday, somebody says: “A card came yesterday saying that Sue will arrive tomorrow.”

If we report this on Wednesday we must say: She told me that a card had come the day before yesterday (on Monday) saying that Sue would arrive today.

Examples of possible time and place changes:

Now - immediately/then

Two days ago – two days before/then

Today – that day

Tonight – that night

Tomorrow – the next day/ the following day

Yesterday – the previous day/ the day before

Last night- the night before

Here- there

This place- that place

These places- those places

Come/ bring - go/ take

Questions

The pattern for making questions with the reporting verb in past is same as the one with the reporting verb in present, only that we have now tense change. If the question starts with wh-word we keep that word and make inversion. If it starts with any other word we use if or whether when making indirect speech.

He asked:”Where does he live?”

He asked where he lived. (inversion subject + verb and tense change)

She asked: “Is this your house?”

She asked whether/ if that was my house.