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

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Reporting and summarising 2

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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 sir,

Thank you for your reply. I have one more question regarding this. I think in the lesson above it is implied that the sentences "John said he had stayed at the Shangri-la because it is the most comfortable hotel in town" and "John said he had stayed at Shangri-la because it was the most comfortable hotel in town" can be used interchangeably. But according to my understanding they can't as the first one indicates that the saying is still true (as present tense is used) and as you mentioned we can not say if the saying is still true or not.

So, my question is can we use the two sentences interchangeably or not ?

Hello Unique jain,

You are correct that the first sentence tells us that the hotel is still the most comfortable and the second does not tell us this. If the point is still true then you can use either sentence; a problem only arises when you are describing something which is no longer true, in which case the first version is not possible.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you. I understand it now.

Hello The LearnEnglish Team,
Shouldn't there be a subject 'you' after 'Andrew' here:
"If you were telling a story about Andrew might write something like this.:" (the second introductory sentence in the table).
With appreciation,
Dima

Hello Dima,

You are quite right with this correction. Thank you!

I have updated the page with the corrected sentence.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

dear sir
I saw in my grammar book an example like below:
direct question: I went to Belfast yesterday.
indirect question: she SAYS she went to Belfast yesterday.
I see that we often use "said" (past tense) more than "say" in direct speech. which situation can I use "say" (present tense) in indirect speech?

Hello lisa,

The different tenses are used depending on the time of the actions that the verbs express, though often the second verbs are about past events simply because reports often report something in the past. In 'She says she went to Belfast yesterday', 'says' is present simple - why it is used really depends on the context, but presumably it's something that 'she' has just said. It's also possible for the other verb to be in the present simple, e.g. 'Julie says that Robert says that she's beautiful' but that really depends on the context. Here, it could be something that Robert says in general about Julie. 

I hope that clarifies it a bit for you.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

hello i do hope i find you well. may you please help me change the following sentence into indirect speech "She will kill me if she finds out"

Hello Lamastry,

I'm afraid we don't do transformation tasks like this for our users, or any similar tasks which may be from homework or tests!

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, I hope this is the right platform for this question because I can't find another.

Pls, what is the final punctuations format for:

'My mind is made up, and has General Bazaki said, "we must all pay the ultimate price when we falter and when we fall".'

Is the above correct?

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