Level: intermediate

Reporting and summarising

When we want to report what people say, we don't usually try to report their exact words. We usually give a summary, for example:

Direct speech (exact words):

Mary: Oh dear. We've been walking for hours! I'm exhausted. I don't think I can go any further. I really need to stop for a rest.
Peter: Don't worry. I'm not surprised you're tired. I'm tired too. I'll tell you what, let's see if we can find a place to sit down, and then we can stop and have our picnic.

Reported speech (summary):

When Mary complained that she was tired out after walking so far, Peter said they could stop for a picnic.

Reporting verbs

When we want to report what people say, we use reporting verbs. Different reporting verbs have different patterns, for example:

Mary complained (that) she was tired.
(verb + that clause)

She asked if they could stop for a rest.
(verb + if clause)

Peter told her not to worry.
(verb + to-infinitive)

He suggested stopping and having a picnic.
(verb + -ing form) 

See reporting verbs with that, wh- and if clauses, verbs followed by the infinitive, verbs followed by the -ing form.

Reporting and summarising 1

GapFillDragAndDrop_MTY1NTE=

Reporting and summarising 2

GapFillTyping_MTY1NTI=

Tenses in reported speech

When reporting what people say or think in English, we need to remember that the rules for tense forms in reported speech are exactly the same as in the rest of the language.

This is a letter that Andrew wrote ten years ago:

am 22 years old and I am at university studying engineering. I take my final exams next month and I will finish university in July.

want to take a year off and travel round the world. I will need to make some money while I am travelling, so I would like to learn to teach English as a second language so that I can make some money while I am abroad. A friend of mine has recommended your course very highly. She also gave me some details, but I would like to ask a few more questions.

What courses do you have in the summer and when do they start? How much do the courses cost? Is there an examination at the end?

look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,

Andrew Brown

If we wanted to report what Andrew said in his letter, we might say something like this: 

Andrew said that when he was 22, he was an engineering student in his last month at university. He wanted to travel abroad after he had finished his course at the university, but he would need to earn some money while he was abroad so he wanted to learn to teach English as a foreign language. A friend had recommended a course but Andrew needed more information, so he wrote to the school and asked them when their courses started and how much they were. He also wanted to know if there was an examination at the end of the course.

We would naturally use past tense forms to talk about things which happened ten years ago. So, tenses in reports and summaries in English are the same as in the rest of the language.

Sometimes we can choose between a past tense form and a present tense form. If we're talking about the past but we mention something that's still true, we can use the present tense:

John said he'd stayed at the Shangri-la because it's the best hotel in town.
Mary said she enjoyed the film because Robert de Niro is her favourite actor.
Helen said she loves visiting New York.

or the past tense:

John said he'd stayed at the Shangri-la because it was the best hotel in town.
Mary said she enjoyed the film because Robert de Niro was her favourite actor.
Helen said she loved visiting New York.

If we're talking about something that everybody knows is true, we normally use the present tense:

Michael said he'd always wanted to climb Everest because it's the highest mountain in the world.
Mary said she loved visiting New York because it's such an exciting city.

Comments

Hello Tim,

The difference is quite logical. If we use 'said' then we are talking about a claim by Peter in the past which he may or may not still maintain. If we use 'says' then we are talking about an opinion expressed by Peter which he still holds.

The reported information (whether or not Rooney is in good shape) can refer to only the past or to the present as well and the statement (what Peter thinks) can separately refer to only the past or the present as well. Of course, all of this is from the point of view of the person reporting Peter's opinion, and whether or not they think that Peter still thinks now what he thought then.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

When you know that an event remains true and you want to report it in indirect speech, do you use present tense or past. E.g., Mary said: "The business is not growing " Reported speech: "Mary said that the business is not growing" or "Mary said that the business was not growing."

Hello Tim,

Both are possible. If you use the present tense then it is clear that the statement is still true (i.e. the business was not growing when Mary spoke and is still not growing now). If you use the past tense then no information is given regarding the present (i.e. the business was growing when Mary spoke and may or may not be growing now).

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

They said"we might drop in if we have time" They said that they might drop in if they have time" why the have shouldn't be changed is it possible to say "if they had" time in such sentences?

Hello aseel aftab,

It should be 'if they had'. This is not from this page, is it? I don't see it anywhere here, but if I've missed it please let me know.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Paul said that "if I knew the answer I would tell you" Paul said said that "If he knew the answer he would tell us" as a general we change past simple into past perfect so it should be had known but somebody correct me that should that which I have written earlier why backshif is not used here?

Hello aseel aftab,

The direct speech is as follows:

If I knew the answer I would tell you.

 

There are different options for reporting this:

Paul said that if he had known the answer he would have told me.

Paul said that if he knew the answer he would tell me.

The first sentence describes a situation in the past. It tells us nothing about the present. We know only that at a time in the past Paul did not tell me the answer, but would have told me then if he had known (according to him).

The second sentence tells us the same thing, but also tells us that the situation is still current. It describes the past (when Paul said this) and the present (it is still true now).

The distinction is similar to the examples I gave in my last answer to you on this topic. Please take a look at those examples as I think they make it much clearer.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

The dwarf said "promise me that when you are Queen you will give me your first born child" so is it correct to say that "The dwarf asked her to promise him that when she was queen she would give her first born child".

Hello aseel aftab,

Yes, that is one way you could transform it into indirect speech. There are also other possible ways, e.g. 'The dwarf told her to promise to give him her first born child when she became Queen'.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Could the indirect speech also be, "the dwarf told her to promise that she would give him her first born child when she became queen." And " the dwarf told her to promise that when she became queen, she would give him her first born child."

Pages