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

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?

Hello Bensho,

It's hard to be sure without knowing the context, and knowing what you want to say. There are also differences in punctuation depending on whether or not something is a direct quotation or a paraphrase, and some differences between British and American English. However, I would guess that the correct way to say this is as follows:

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

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello ,

"Mary : I am going to London tomorrow."

from two text books I saw "tomorrow" to be converted into "the next day / the following day " for reported speech,

Mary said she was going to London the next day / the following day.

but I also saw "yesterday " to be converted into " the day before",

so is it ok to write : Mary said she was going to London the day after.
?

is it ok to convert "yesterday" into "the previous day" ?

Thank you for help!

Hello tssang,

This depends on the context, and specifically when you are reporting the speech.

Mary said she was going to London tomorrow. - You would say this the day before her trip. In other words, if she is going to London on Wednesday then you could only say this on Tuesday.

Mary said she was going to London the next day. - You would say this at any time, and it tells us that Mary said this the day before her trip.

The same is true of 'yesterday' and 'the previous day'. The first refers to time from your perspective, the second to time from her perspective.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank Peter for reply.

but actually I already got what you explained above ( about if that event already happened or not )before I posted the question. The point of my question is..

I saw from two text books saying "tomorrow" to be converted into "the next day / the following day" ( but they don't mention "the day after ")
but I saw "yesterday" to become "the day before"

e.g Mary said she was going to London the next day.

is it ok to put "the day after" instead of "the next day " :

"Mary said she was going to London the day after. " ?
(as I usually see people say this by using the next day / the following day , I wonder if using "the day after" in the above example is grammatically right or not)

Hello tssang,

Yes, you can say 'the day after' in the way you suggest here. Good work!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

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