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Reported Speech
A Common Sense Approach
by Kendall Peet
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2. Demonstratives and Deictic Adverbs

The demonstratives and deictic adverbs, such as this, these, here, now, and today, may need to be replaced by more remote forms such as that, those, there, then, and that day or by a more direct reference to the place or time (refer to Appendix 1): in the example above, today becomes yesterday, and here becomes at work.

3. Verb Tenses

Thirdly, a back-shift of tense is usually required unless the situation has not changed (refer to Appendix 2). In the example above, V1 becomes V2, is becomes were, need becomes needed, and has becomes had. As a general guideline, Swan writes that the tense does not need to be changed when the present, future, and present perfect reporting verbs are used (because there is normally no important change in time). (7) In addition to this, the past simple and continuous tenses in spoken English are often left unchanged, provided there is no confusion relating to the relevant times and actions. (8) Finally, in regard to modals, must changes to had to; past modals remain unchanged: would in the above example remains as would in reported speech.

4. Questions

When reporting questions, the changes already mentioned in regard to statements apply. In addition to these, there are also several other areas to consider. Firstly, the word order changes to that of a statement, namely subject-verb, and so accordingly reported questions are usually not punctuated with a question mark. Secondly, the auxiliary verb do is dropped. Finally, yes/no questions start with if , or whether (or not): wh-word questions, such as why, when, and where, however, do not:(9)

  • He asked, “ Is Peter here?”

becomes He asked if/whether you were at the office.

  • “ Do you know if he’s finished his report yet?”

becomes He asked (me) if you had finished your report yet.

  • He asked, “Where’s Peter?”

Becomes He asked where you were.

Reporting Verbs

The last area to discuss in Part One relates to the variety of reporting verbs used in English (refer to Appendix to 3, 4). The more commonly used reporting verbs are say, tell, and ask, and most class texts introduce these verbs first. Few texts introduce reported speech at pre-intermediate level: Cutting Edge Pre-intermediate, Unit 15 (say, and tell); New Headway Pre-intermediate, Unit 14 (say, and tell); Interchange 2, Unit 14 (say). Most class texts work with reported speech (say, tell, and ask) at intermediate level and above: English File Intermediate, Unit 7; Intermediate Matters, Unit 16; and True to Life Intermediate, Unit 18. The reason for the late introduction of reported speech to the English L2 curriculum is inherent in the complexity of the grammar outlined in Part One. The complexity of the grammar further explains why a wider variety of functionally useful reporting verbs are not introduced until upper-intermediate level.

7. Swan, M. (1980). P.502
8. Thomson, A.J. & Martinet, A.v. (1960. p.271
9. Fuchs, M. & Bonner, M. (2002). Longman p. 326

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