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.
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)
- Reporting and summarising 1
- Reporting and summarising 2
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:
I 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.
I 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?
I look forward to hearing from you.
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.