Pages: [1]
Print
Author Topic: A full-dress review of reported or indirect speech  (Read 207 times)
Joe Carillo
Administrator
Hero Member
*****

Karma: +52/-2
Posts: 3558


View Profile Email
« on: October 03, 2017, 01:10:33 PM »

Reported speech needs advanced grammar skills and a quick mind

From a grammar standpoint, writing about the things we have said ourselves is much simpler than reporting to people what we heard or learned somebody else has said. This latter activity is what’s known in English grammar as reported speech or indirect speech, and it requires higher grammar skills and quickness of mind to do properly. As I’m sure many of us have already found out, putting the reported clause—the statement uttered by the person we are talking about—in the proper tense and form isn’t all that simple. Unless we are among the very few people on Earth gifted with total recall, we won’t be able to quote those utterances word for word. We will often need to paraphrase those utterances and apply what’s known as the normal sequence-of-tenses rule for reported speech—a rule that needs thorough mastery before it can be applied with confidence and finesse.




In “How to handle reported speech,” a three-part essay that I wrote for my English-usage column in The Manila Times in 2009, I discuss how the operative verb in the reported statement must be rendered to grammatically match the tense of the reporting verb, and what grammatical changes must be made in the reported statement itself to conform to the sense of reported speech. I have posted all three essays in this week’s edition of the Forum for those who need a full-dress review of reported speech to further improve their English.

How to handle reported speech

Part I:

Handling directly quoted statements is quite simple, but it can sometimes go wrong when we mix up the American English and British English styles for using quotation marks and for punctuating quoted statements within quoted statements. It gets just a bit more complicated when we report what someone else has said but don’t use the exact words that were uttered. We do this, of course, when we can’t remember the exact words or when we just want to summarize, focus on the salient points, or perhaps improve the grammar of what was said. We then enter the realm of what's called in English grammar as reported speech or indirect speech.

The pivotal factor in reported speech is the tense of the reporting verb. When the reporting verb is in the simple present tense, present perfect tense, or future tense, the operative verb in the reported statement remains unchanged; often, only the pronouns in the quoted statement need to be changed.

Consider the following directly quoted statement by American baker Kent Dueitt in an interview with The New York Times: “We keep the dough cooled, to prevent the baking powder from activating, and we don’t beat the dough up. We mix slow.”

In the simple present tense, that statement can be rendered in reported speech as follows:

American baker Kent Dueitt says that they keep the dough cooled to prevent the baking powder from activating and that they don’t beat the dough but mix it slow.

In the present perfect tense:

American baker Kent Dueitt has said that they keep the dough cooled to prevent the baking powder from activating and that they don’t beat the dough but mix it slow.

And in the future tense:

American baker Kent Dueitt will say that they keep the dough cooled to prevent the baking powder from activating and that they don’t beat the dough but mix it slow.
    
In all three of the reporting tenses above, the only grammatically significant change in the reported statement is the replacement of the pronoun “we” with “they.” Of course, the conjunction “that” is used to introduce the indirectly quoted statement, since it takes the form of a noun clause. In informal writing, however, the conjunction “that” can often be dropped to make the reported speech easier to articulate, as we can see in the following “that”-less construction of the simple present tense rendition:

American baker Kent Dueitt says they keep the dough cooled to prevent the baking powder from activating, and don’t beat the dough but mix it slow.

But things in reported speech become more iffy when the reporting verb is in the past tense. The general rule, as we all know, is for the operative verb in the reported statement to move one tense back, but that rule applies only when the action in the reported statement is a completed or consummated one.

Take this direct quote from a Philippine official about the Somalia ship-piracy issue as reported in The Manila Times: “At the moment, we have not gotten any feedback as to the advisability of issuing an official ban for Filipino seamen going there (Somalia).”

Quite simply, that direct quote can be rendered in reported speech this way:

The Philippine official said that they had not gotten any feedback at the moment as to the advisability of issuing an official ban for Filipino seamen going to Somalia.



GRAMMAR AND SENTENCE STRUCTURE CHANGES FROM DIRECT SPEECH TO INDIRECT SPEECH


When the action is a repeated or habitual one, however, as in the case of the baker’s statement quoted in The New York Times, the operative verb in the reported statement formally should take the modal form “would + verb”:

American baker Kent Dueitt said [that] they would keep the dough cooled to prevent the baking powder from activating and [that they] would not beat the dough but mix it slow.  (April 18, 2009)

Part II:

In the previous essay, I observed that while the general rule in reported speech is to move the operative verb in the directly quoted statement one tense back, things are not as predictable when the action in the reported statement is a repeated or habitual one, as in this directly quoted statement by an American baker: “We keep the dough cooled, to prevent the baking powder from activating, and we don’t beat the dough up. We mix slow.” I said that in reported speech, the operative verbs in that reported statement formally take not the simple past tense but the modal form “would + verb”:

American baker Kent Dueitt said [that] they would keep the dough cooled to prevent the baking powder from activating and [that they] would not beat the dough but mix it slow.

The formal use of the modal form “would + verb” for this particular situation is meant to indicate that while the actions described—keeping the dough cooled and not beating it—were being repeatedly or habitually done by the bakers up to the point of Mr. Dueitt’s utterance, it’s possible that they might have stopped doing those actions thereafter. In other words, the use of the modal form recognizes that there’s a zone of uncertainty as to whether the repeated or habitual actions described had continued or persisted up to the time the statement was reported. Of course, without that uncertainty—if we are definitely sure that the bakers continue to do those actions up to now—we can very well use the simple present tense for the operative verbs in the reported speech, as follows:

American baker Kent Dueitt said (that) they keep the dough cooled to prevent the baking powder from activating and (that they) don’t beat the dough but mix it slow.

Now, as I had discussed in an earlier essay, when the reporting verb is in the simple past tense, the operative verb in a directly quoted statement—in whatever tense it might be—generally moves one tense backwards in reported speech.

From past progressive in a directly quoted statement:
We were cooling the dough when the baking powder activated it.

To past perfect progressive in reported speech (taking into account that Mr. Dueitt is male):
He said they had been cooling the dough when the baking powder activated it.

From present progressive:
We are finding it difficult to cool the dough.

To past progressive:
He said they were finding it difficult to cool the dough.

From simple present perfect:
We have cooled the dough enough but the baking powder activated it.

To simple past perfect:
He said they had cooled the dough enough but the baking powder activated it.

From present perfect progressive:
We have been cooling the dough but the baking powder still activated it.

To past perfect progressive:
He said they had been cooling the dough but the baking power still activated it.

Keep in mind, though, that when the operative verb of the reported utterance is in the past perfect or past perfect progressive tense, no change is possible for it in reported speech; it stays in that tense.

Utterance in the past perfect:
The dough had cooled by the time we remembered to beat it.

In reported speech:
He said the dough had cooled by the time they remembered to beat it.

Utterance in the past perfect progressive:
We had been cooling that dough without beating it as a matter of procedure.

In reported speech:
He said they had been cooling that dough without beating it as a matter of procedure.

We will conclude this discussion in the next essay. (April 25, 2009)

Part III:

We are now almost done with our review of how directly quoted statements behave when transformed into reported speech, particularly in the way their operative verbs move one tense back in the paraphrased statement. All we need to do now is to tie up a few loose ends to make sure that the transformations we make are grammatically correct every time.



CHANGES IN TIME SIGNIFIERS FROM DIRECT SPEECH TO INDIRECT SPEECH


In making the transformations, we also need to always change the time signifiers in the directly quoted statement to conform to the sense of reported speech. These time signifiers, whenever present in the direct quote, must be back-shifted one step in time along with the back-shifting of the operative verb. If we forget to do this, our sentences would be askew both grammatically and logically.

These time signifiers or adverbs of time and their conversion to the form needed in reported speech should now be second nature to us, as we can see in the list below of the most common time-signifier conversions:

From “now” to “then”:
Direct quote: “The public should start taking precautions against the swine flu virus right now,” the health official said last week.

Reported speech: The health official said last week that the public should start taking precautions against the swine flu virus right then.

From “today” to “that day”:
Direct quote: “I am giving you only until today to settle your account,” she said.

Reported speech: She said she was giving me only until that day to settle my account.

From “tomorrow” to “the following day”:
Direct quote: “See me tomorrow to discuss your monthly sales,” my manager said.

Reported speech: My manager asked me to see him the following day to discuss my monthly sales.

From “yesterday” to “the previous day” or “the day before”:
Direct quote: “Please tell me what you were doing at the park yesterday,” the irate wife asked her husband.

Reported speech: The irate wife asked her husband what he was doing at the park the previous day [or the day before].

From “last year” to “the year before”:
Direct quote: “We met last year during a heavy downpour,” the bride told us.

Reported speech: The bride told us that they met the year before during a heavy downpour.



EFFECT OF PASSAGE OF TIME ON THE TRANSFORMATION FROM DIRECT SPEECH TO INDIRECT SPEECH


Apart from the time signifiers, we also need to routinely change the place signifiers “here” and “this” in directly quoted statements to conform to the sense of reported speech, as follows:

From “here” to “there”:
Direct quote: “I saw you here with another woman this morning,” his fiancée said at the restaurant.

Reported speech: His fiancée said at the restaurant [that] she saw him there with another woman that morning.”

From “this” to “that”:
Direct quote: “I warned you about this matter several times,” his supervisor said.

Reported speech: His supervisor said [that] he had warned him about that matter several times.

Finally, when the operative verb in a directly quoted statement is in the modal form, we need to remember to always change the modal auxiliary to its past tense form in reported speech.

From “will” to “would”:
Direct quote: “The staff will leave only upon my instructions,” the general manager said.

Reported speech: The general manager said (that) the staff would leave only upon his instructions.

From “can” to “could”:
Direct quote: “Alicia can finish her report in three days,” the supervisor said.

Reported speech: The supervisor said (that) Alicia could finish her report in three days.”

From “must” to “had to”:
Direct quote: “All projects must be finished by yearend,” the president said.

Reported speech: The president said [that] all projects had to be finished by yearend.

From “may” to “might”:
Direct quote: “I may go to New York next month,” my friend said.

Reported speech: My friend said he might go to New York next month.

We are done with our review of reported speech. (May 2, 2009)
-----------
From the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times, April 18 and 25 and May 2, 2009 © 2009 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

RELATED ESSAYS:
“The proper way to construct sentences for reported speech”
“Going back to the basic forms of reported speech”
« Last Edit: October 03, 2017, 02:51:59 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

Pages: [1]
Print
Jump to: