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

Hi,would you be kind enough to clarify the following for me.
Direct: "I don't help you at the next exam"
Indirect: She said that she didn't help me at the next exam.
Isn't it wrong to report the above sentence that way as "I don't help you at the next exam" refers to future?

Hi Kumara99,
Please see my comment below, where I indicate that "I don't help you" does not refer to the future - in fact, it is not standard English.
If you want to refer to the future, you can say "I won't help you" or "I'm not going to help you" or "I'm not helping you" - see the links to the pages in my comment for an explanation.
A report of one of these sentences referring to the future in indirect speech would be "She said that she wouldn't help me".
Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi everybody! Can I ask a question? how we report this "I don't give you any help at the exam" Doesn't this refer to future and isn't it wrong to say" He said that he didn't help me at the exam?
 

Hi Kumara99,
I'm not sure I understand, because "I don't give you any help at the exam" does not refer to the future. You might want to review our pages on talking about the present and talking about the future for more information on this.
"He said that he didn't help me at the exam" is grammatically correct and refers to the past.
If I've misunderstood you, please let me know and ask again!
Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, Mr. Kirk
Thanks a lot for your pain.
I'd be much more grateful to you, would be kind enough to give a further comment on the same, that is
In your lesson talking about the future' you say
"when we know the future we use simple present tense"

Hi Kumara99,
On our talking about the future page, that sentence tries to explain the fact that, in English, we often use a present tense to speak about the future. That can seem a bit strange, but it's what we do.
If you have more questions about talking about the future, please don't hesitate to ask, but please ask your questions on the talking about the future page so that other users can benefit from your questions and our answers.
Thanks for your collaboration.
Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello,

What about the form be + going to + inf.

Please let me know where to find rules covering that.

Thanks.

Hello tarek!
 
I'm sorry, I'm not quite sure I understand your question. Do you mean rules for using that in reported speech? That would be the same as discussed here - use the past tense:
 
He said he was going to do it.
 
If you want to know about the normal use of be+ going to + inf, take a look at our page on talking about the future.
 
Hope that helps!
 
Jeremy Bee
The LearnEnglish Team
 
 

perfect!

Please let me know where to find rules covering verb tense agreement between main clause and the subordinating clause in a complex sentence.  Thanks in advance.

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