Topic 30A – Direct and indirect speech

Topic 30A – Direct and indirect speech

1 INTRODUCTION

2 DIRECT SPEECH

3 INDIRECT SPEECH

3.1 Backshift in indirect speech

3.2 Auxiliary Verbs and the Subjunctive mood

3.3 Adjectives and Pronouns shifts

3.4 Adverbs of time and place shifts

3.5 Types of sentences

A Statements

B Questions

C Commands

D Exclamations and suggestions

3.6 Special reporting verbs

3.7 Free direct and free indirect speech

4 STUDY GUIDE

5 BIBLIOGRAPHY

1 INTRODUCTION

There are many ways in which other people´s words can be reported. Linguistically, this process is termed reported speech.

In the following topic we will study the concepts of direct reported speech and indirect reported speech with the grammatical implications that are involved in their study. In the second part of our analysis, we will centre on the main aspects related to indirect speech, that is to say, backshift of verbal forms, adjectives and pronouns shifts, adverbs of time and place shifts, and changes that affect different types of sentences (statements, questions, exclamations, suggestions, commands). Finally we will discuss the subjunctive mood and other auxiliaries. To conclude our essay we will also analyse what is known as free direct and indirect speech.

Direct speech is the reporting of other people´s words reproducing exactly the same utterances that they said a moment in time. For instance:

My mother told me this morning: “Get up quickly because it´s too late”

Direct speech gives the exact words of an utterance. They are enclosed in quotation marks. The medial position of reporting clause is frequent. Subject verb inversion may occur if the verb is in the simple present or in the simple past. Inversion is most common when the verb is “said”. The subject of a reporting clause should not be pronoun. It sounds archaic. D. S. may extend over many sentence. The rep. clause in this case is in the first sentence. Reported clauses are omitted in fiction writing when the identity of the speaker is obvious, or in plays in formal reports.

On the other hand, the indirect speech would be the reporting of the same verbal fact, but altering some grammatical aspects of the sentence because the speaker says these words in his own way. For example:

My mother told me this morning to get up quickly because it was too late, even

My mother ordered me this morning to get up quickly because it was too late

Indirect speech conveys the words of a subsequent reporter, what has been said before. These form a “that clause”. Reporting verbs that are used with indirect speech include those that are frequently used with direct speech, these are known as verbs of speaking and thinking. A reporter using indirect speech may summarize

As we have seen in the example, the interpretation of an utterance is done under the subjective point of view of the one interpreting the sentence, which affect the new utterance with some changes.

The meaning of the examples above is the same, but whereas the first one is using the exact words that were pronounced to the listener in a previous time, the second one arranges the sentence with some structural modifications.

However the two ways of reporting words share a set of elements:

a) the reporting clause, or the speaker who uttered those words, sometimes including to whom he spoke them, the way and the circumstances under which the utterance occurred. For example:

My mother shouted at me angrily this morning

(my mother – the subject who told)

(shouted – the way in which she did it)

(at me – the person to whom she spoke)

( angrily – the manner she did it)

(this morning- the time of the utterance)

b) the reported clause, is the utterance itself, the body of the message.

In ordinary conversations, we use indirect speech much more often than direct speech, because we usually do not remember exactly the words that someone told.

On the other hand, direct speech is far more common in written texts as plays, dialogues, comics books, etc.

Not always we use reported speech to convey other people´s words, also we use this linguistic device to relate other people´s thoughts, especially in literature through the literary device of the internal monologue or stream of consciousness, where the inner thoughts of a character are expressed through the written code.

2 DIRECT SPEECH

Direct Speech is easily recognizable because the quotation marks enclose the utterance, for example:

Tom said: “I haven´t seen Diane recently”

Notwithstanding, these quotation marks are omitted in fictional dialogues and conversations in literary

genres such as novels, plays, reporting of formal meetings, newspapers headlines, etc.

With regards to the reporting clause, they usually appear in front of the reported clause or utterance,but

in fictional written texts they can come at the end or even they may suffer an inversion of subject-verb if

the subject is not a pronoun and the verb is present or past simple:

John said, “it´s quite hard to be a builder”

“It´s quite hard to be a builder”, Tom said

“It´s quite hard to be a builder”, said John

“It´s quite hard” , said John, “to be a builder” (notice this middle position inversion)

Reporting clauses are often omitted as well when the identity of speakers is rather obvious and guessed

from the gist:

Roger and Liam entered the main living-room and stared at the amazing wooden library:

– Look at all those old books, Liam!

– Oh, …can you imagine if the secret map is in one of them?

Reported and reporting clauses hold a syntactic relation, although the point sometimes is not very

clear for the grammarians. Let´s consider the following sentence:

The teacher told the students: “You are going to pass your final exam”

It seems clear at first sight that the reported clause, that is to say, “You are going to pass your final

exam” is the direct object of the reporting verb “told”. However some grammarians think that if we use a

wh- question and we say: “What the teacher told the students was…”you are going to pass your final

exam””, then, the reported clause becomes the subject complement.

Many verbs can function as introductory reporting verbs that imply the way of speaking or thinking,

for example: add- advise- answer- ask- argue- announce- boast- beg- claim- complain- cry- convey-

declare- deny- explain- express- groan- moan- murmur- mutter- mumble- observe- object- order- reply-

remark- reject- refuse- repeat- say- snap- sob- sneer- stammer- suggest- shout- tell- think- write- warn-

wonder- whisper, etc.

3 INDIRECT SPEECH

Typically indirect speech takes the form of a subordinate clause introduced by the conjuction “that” ,

that can be omitted very often. Although it is important to take into account the type of sentence we face

because the changes will be different, as we explain later on. For example:

Paul said: “I have had eggs for breakfast this morning”

This sentence would turn into:

Paul said (that) he had had eggs for breakfast that morning

As we can see, the new sentence has some new elements and some other changes that did not appear in

the real utterance of the speaker. These changes refer to verbal tenses, adjectives and pronouns, adverbs

of time and adverbs of place. We will extend on these changes in the next part of our topic.

3.1 Backshift in indirect speech

When the time of the original utterance occurred long time ago, it is necessary to change the tenses of the verbal forms. Such a change is termed in grammar “backshift”.

There is a direct correspondence between tenses of direct and indirect speech. It is as follows:

Direct Speech

 

Indirect Speech

simple present
He said, “I go to school every day.”

 

simple past
He said (that) he went to school every day.

simple past
He said, “I went to school every day.”

 

past perfect
He said (that) he had gone to school every day.

present perfect
He said, “I have gone to school every day.”

 

past perfect
He said (that) he had gone to school every day.

present progressive
He said, “I am going to school every day.”

 

past progressive
He said (that) he was going to school every day.

past progressive
He said, “I was going to school every day.”

 

perfect progressive
He said (that) he had been going to school every day,

future (will)
He said, “I will go to school every day.”

 

would + verb name
He said (that) he would go to school every day.

future (going to)
He said, “I am going to school every day.”

 

present progressive
He said (that) he is going to school every day.

 

past progressive
He said (that) he was going to school every day

If the verbal form takes the progressive aspect, we will take the correspondent backshift plus the continuous form.

However, we may find a few exceptions taking into account:

a) the reporting clause- the verbal tense remains the same when:

– the utterance has been done in a recent time. For example:

Helen tells me that she is not going to come to the party

– the utterance is usual in one´s speech. For example:

My father always says that you can´t regret

– the utterance has been done by someone famous and it has present validity. For example:

Shakespeare writes somewhere that jealousy is a green monster

– reading a letter or reporting something that we are seeing. For example:

Paul says that he is having a good time in London

– using verbs of cognition. For example:

I know they don´t care

– when the conversation is still in progress. For example:

You still tell me that you don´t love her

b) the reported clause- the verbal tense remains the same in these cases:

– time clauses. For example:

He said that the weather was awful when he was in London

– a past tense is used to describe a state of affairs that still exists when the utterance is reported. For example:

He said that he hadn´t booked in that hotel because it was far from the city centre

– after verbs or expressions such as wish, would rather/sooner, it is time…For example:

He said he wish he had enough time to visit me

– the present simple remains as present simple when the idea that the reported clause expresses is an universal truth. For example:

We learnt at school that water boils at 100º C

– after the expression “had better”. For example:

He said that they had better go to bed early

(Although it is also possible the change: He advised them to go bed early or He suggested them going to bed early.)

3.2 Auxiliary verbs and the subjunctive mood

If there is a change in time reference, a modal auxiliary is backshifted from present tense forms to past tense forms. If a modal auxiliary in the direct speech. is already in the past tense form, then the same form remains in the indirect speech. Several modal auxiliaries or marginal modals have only one form (must). This form remains in indirect speech. But in this case it can be replaced by had to. If the proposition in the indirect speech is valid at the time of utterance the backshift is optional.

The following examples can illustrate the main shifts with modal auxiliaries:

Direct Speech

 

Indirect Speech

can
He said, “I can go to school every day.”

 

could
He said (that) he could go to school every day.

may
He said, “I may go to school every day.”

 

might
He said (that) he might go to school every day.

might
He said, “I might go to school every day.”

   

must
He said, “I must go to school every day.”

 

had to
He said (that) he had to go to school every day.

have to
He said, “I have to go to school every day.”

   

should
He said, “I should go to school every day.”

 

should
He said (that) he should go to school every day.

ought to
He said, “I ought to go to school every day.”

 

ought to
He said (that) he ought to go to school every day.

With regards to the subjunctive mood, we can say that there is no indirect speech construction for the optative subjunctive, but when it is used to express a wish the construction with may is sometimes a near equivalent. For example:

“God bless America”, said the Queen

She expressed the wish that God may/ might bless America

There is no backshift for the mandative subjunctive. For example:

“We insisted that he leave at once”, Carol said

Carol said that they had insisted that he leave at once

The past subjunctive or hypothetical past is backshifted to hypothetical past perfective if there is a change in time reference. Backshift is optional if the proposition in the indirect speech is still valid. For example:

“If Peter were here, he would invite me”, Susan said

Susan said that if Peter had been there, he would have invited her

3.3 Adjectives and Pronouns shifts

If the identity of the speaker and the person addressed are not the same as in the situation of the original utterance, the personal pronouns need to be changed. Pronoun shift requires the shift of 1st and 2nd person pronouns to 3rd person pronouns or to nouns, when the person referred to in the original utterance are absent in the reported utterance. 1st an 2nd person pronouns are used as appropriate to the reporting situation. The following examples show the main shifts with regards to personal and possessive pronouns:

I

he, she

you

he, she, they

we

they

they

they

he, she

he, she, I

my

his, her, my

your

his, her, my

his, her

his, her

their

their

our,

their

Thus, if the relation between the original and the reported utterance has changed it is necessary to make adjustments as follows:

John told Mary: “You can´t go on holiday because you spent all your savings”

John told Mary that she couldn´t go on holiday because she had spent all her savings

3.4 Adverbs of time and place shifts

Words related to time and place suffer changes in indirect speech. The main shifts are as follows:

Adverbs of time shifts:

last year, last month, last week

the year/month/week before

yesterday,

the day before yesterday

the day before, 

two days before

today

that day, yesterday, the day before

tomorrow

the next day

the day after tomorrow

in two days

next week/month/year

the following week/month/year

on Monday

on Monday, 11th December

this morning / afternoon / evening/night

that morning / afternoon / evening/ night

last week, month, year

the previous week, month, year

three days, weeks, months, …years ago

three days, weeks, months, …..years before

Adverbs of place shifts:

here

there

this

that

these

those

here, there

at the George Hotel, at school

For place and time expressions you have to check whether place and time are the same in direct and reported speech or not. Check out the following example:

It is Friday and you meet James at a restaurant. James tells you that he saw Caroline in this restaurant today. (“I saw Caroline here today.”) A few minutes later, Helen joins you and you want to report what James has told you. Place (here) and time (today) are the same and you can say:

James said that he had seen Caroline here today.

One day later, you meet Mary at the same restaurant. Again, you want to report to her what James has told you. The place is the same, but not the time (it happened yesterday). So you would say:

James said that he had seen Caroline here yesterday.

Still a few days later, Tom rings you at home. Again, you want to report to him what James has told you. However, now you are not at the restaurant (but at home) and a few days have passed since then. So you would say:

James said that he had seen Caroline at the restaurant on Friday. I met James in a restaurant on Friday and he said that he had seen Caroline there that day.

Therefore you always have to think which place and time expressions are logical in a certain situation.

3.5 Types of sentences

A Statements

Statements are affirmative or negative sentences, and “say” and “tell” are two of the most common verbs used to report statements. We use an indirect object after “ tell”, but not after “say”, for example:

He told me that he was feeling ill. (NOT: told that)

She said that she would be late for the meeting. (NOT: said me that)

We can use to + object after say, but not after tell, for example:

I said to John that he had to work harder. (NOT: told to John)

However there are more reporting verbs that express the manner in which other people´s words were

spoken: add- advise- answer- ask- argue- announce- boast- beg- claim- complain- cry- convey- declare-

deny- explain- express- groan- moan- murmur- mutter- mumble- observe- object- order- reply- remark-

reject- refuse- repeat- say- snap- sob- sneer- stammer- suggest- shout- tell- think- write- warn- wonder

whisper, etc. (As you can notice, they are the same as in direct speech.)

On the other hand, in reported speech the word that is often used. For example:

He told me that he lived in Greenwich.

However, “that” is optional. For example:

He told me he lived in Greenwich.

Note – That is never used in questions, instead we often use if. For example:

He asked me if I would come to the party.

B Questions

The same rules apply to indirect questions as to indirect statements. Normal word order is used in reported questions, that is, the subject comes before the verb, and it is not necessary to use auxiliaries such as do/ did. For example:

“Where does Peter live?” , she asked

She asked him where Peter lived.

However we can distinguish two types of questions:

a) Yes / no questions: This type of question is reported by using “ask if / whether” + clause. For example:

“Do you speak English?” , he asked me

He asked me if I spoke English.

“Are you British or American?” , he asked me

He asked me whether I was British or American.

“Is it raining?” , she asked

She asked if it was raining.
“Have you got a computer?” , he asked

He wanted to know whether I had a computer.
“Did you come by train?” , he asked

He enquired whether I had come by train.

(Notice: “enquire”, “want to know” are synonyms of “ask”.)
b) Question words or wh-questions: This type of question is reported by using “ask”(or another verb like”ask”) + question word + clause. The clause contains the question, in normal word order and with the necessary tense change. Examples:

“What is your name?” he asked me.

He asked me what my name was.

“How old is your mother?”, he asked.

He asked how old her mother was.

The mouse said to the elephant, “Where do you live?”

The mouse asked the elephant where she lived.
“What time does the train arrive?” she asked.

She asked what time the train arrived.

C Commands

What you have to retain about the use of the imperative in the direct speech is that it turns into the infinitive with “to” in the reported speech. If the speaker uses a negative imperative, the reporter should place “NOT” before the infinitive and a new arrangement of the sentence occurs. The reporting verbs are generally ask, tell, order. Look at the examples:

He ordered: “Go downstairs quickly”

He ordered to go downstairs quickly

The boyfriend told his girlfriend: “Please, don´t leave me”

The boyfriend told his girlfriend not to leave him

D Exclamations and suggestions

Reporting an exclamation is usually best achieved by a circumlocution reflecting the spirit

of the original exclamation. They change like statements.

Exclamations are not often reported in spoken English, so too much time shouldn’t be

wasted in hunting for the best expression. The other forms of reported speech are far more important.

Some exclamatory forms are really questions (rhetorical) or imperatives.

“What a lovely garden!”

He remarked what a lovely garden it was.

“Hello! where are you going?”

He greeted me and asked where I was going.

There are also typical sentences that the introductory verb conveys the meaning of the whole sentence. For example:

He said: “Thank you”

He thanked me

She said: “Good-bye”

She said me off

They said: “Good luck!”

They wished me luck

He said: “Damn!”

He swore

With regards to suggestions, we can say that there are a subtype of clauses usually introduced by the “Let´s” formula:

He said: “Let´s go to the cinema tonight”

He suggested going to the cinema that night or

He suggested that we should go to the cinema that night

If the answer is negative “Let´s not” we report:

She objected to go or

She was against the idea of going to the cinema that night

3.6 Special reporting verbs

There are a lot of other verbs you can use to describe or summarise what people say without repeating the same thing over and over again. These verbs give us the meaning of the original words without actually using them all. We can often use verbs we wouldn’t normally associate with reported speech, but if they describe the meaning of the original words then we can use them.

The grammar structures we have shown with these verbs are not necessarily the only structures possible. We have tried to show the ones which are the most usual. The meaning of some verbs changes according to the structure used, so we have only included structures that have the same meaning:

– accuse (to accuse someone of doing something)

“It was you who ate my chocolate, Elvira, wasn’t it?”
He accused Elvira of eating his chocolate.

– admit (to admit doing something / to admit that…)

“OK, it was me. I ate your chocolate”
Elvira admitted eating the chocolate.
Elvira admitted that she had eaten the chocolate.

– advise (to advise someone to do something)

“Well, if I were you I’d start saving for my retirement.”
He advised me to start saving for my retirement

– agree (to agree that…)

“Yes, you’re right, it’s a terrible problem.”
She agreed that it was a terrible problem.

– announce (to announce that…)

“I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. The company’s closing.”
The manager announced that the company was closing.

– apologise (to apologise (to someone) for doing something)

“I’m sorry I didn’t get to the meeting.”
He apologised for not going to the meeting.

– ask (to ask someone to do something)

“It’s very hot in here. Would you mind opening the window?”
She asked him to open the window.

– blame (to blame someone for doing something)

“We lost the match because you didn’t save that penalty.”
He blamed the goalkeeper for losing the match.

– complain (to complain about something)

“The electrician said he was coming at ten o’clock so I took time off work and waited in all morning….”
She complained about the electrician.

– congratulate (to congratulate someone on doing something)

“Well done! I knew you’d pass your driving test this time.”
She congratulated him on passing his driving test.

– deny (to deny doing something / to deny that…)

“It most certainly wasn’t me that left the front door open.”
He denied leaving the front door open.
He denied that he had left the front door open.

– explain (to explain why… / to explain that…)

“Sorry I’m late. The traffic was bad and then I couldn’t find a parking space.”
He explained why he was late.
He explained that the traffic was bad.

– forget (to forget to do something)

“Oh no, I haven’t got any money. I didn’t go to the bank.”
He forgot to go to the bank.

– invite (to invite someone to do something)

“Would you like to come to our house for dinner on Friday?
He invited them to come to dinner on Friday.

– offer (to offer to do something for someone)

“Those bags must be heavy, John. Shall I take one?”
She offered to carry a bag for him.

– promise (to promise to do something)

“Yes, honest, I’ll be there on time. I won’t be late.”
He promised not to be late.

– refuse (to refuse to do something)

“Well I’m not washing up. I did it last time.”
He refused to do the washing-up.

– remind (to remind someone to do something)

“Remember you have to go to the bank. You forgot yesterday.”
She reminded me to go to the bank.

– suggest (to suggest that someone should do something / to suggest that someone do something)

“Why don’t you go to the dentist if your tooth hurts?”
She suggested that he should go to the dentist.
She suggested that he went to the dentist.

– threaten (to threaten to do something)

“If you’re late again we’ll start without you.”
They threatened to start without him.

– warn (to warn someone about something / to warn someone (not) to do something)

“Don’t drive too quickly. The streets are very icy.”
He warned him about the ice.
He warned him not to drive too quickly.

3.7 Free indirect and direct speech

It is used to report speech or the stream of thought. The reporting clause is omitted. The potentialities of direct speech sentence structure are retained. It is only the backshift of the verb, with equivalent shifts in personal pronouns, and time and place references that signals the fact that the words are being reported. In the case of free direct speech it is used in fiction writing to represent a person´s stream of thought. It is a form of direct speech but it is merged with the narration without any overt indication by a reporting clause of a switch to speech. Its distinguished form is the past time reference of the narration by its use of present tense forms.

Free indirect speech (or free indirect discourse or free indirect style) is a style of third person narration which combines some of the characteristics of third-person report with first-person direct speech. Passages written using free indirect speech are often ambiguous as to whether they convey the views of the narrator or of the character the narrator is describing, allowing a flexible and sometimes ironic interaction of internal and external perspectives.

In English literature, Jane Austen was among the first authors to use free indirect speech in a significant and deliberate manner. The opinions of her narrators are frequently blurred with the thoughts of her characters.

Flaubert‘s use of the French imperfect tense is cited as an example of free indirect speech, called in French style indirect libre.

4 STUDY GUIDE

When reporting someone else’s speech, the time, the place and the speakers are often different, so tenses or modals (past/present tenses, will, can etc), words connected with time and place (today, here etc), and pronouns (I, you, he etc) often change. For example:

“I’ll do my homework, here, at the library, tonight.” (said on Monday 5th)
She said she would do her homework, there, at the library, last night. (reported on Tuesday 6th)

Verbs used in the original speech generally become more ‘past’ (i.e. they often go back a tense) but some of them stay the same:

present simple > past simple
present progressive > past progressive
past simple > past perfect (or remains as past simple)
present perfect > past perfect
past progressive > past perfect progressive (or remains as past progressive)
past perfect remains as past perfect
can/may/shall/will > could/might/should/would
would, could, should, ought to and might remain the same
must > had to (or remains as must)

If the speech that we report talks about things that you think are still true then the tense doesn’t need to change:

“Sally has broken her leg.”
He said Sally has broken her leg.

Other changes are important, for example those with regards to:

– expression of time:

“I’m going home tomorrow”
He said he was going home the following day

– personal pronouns and possessive adjectives:

“I’m going to my uncle’s home tomorrow”
He said he was going to his uncle’s home the following day

When we report ‘requests’, ‘offers’, ‘advice’, ‘orders’, and ‘suggestions’ we often use a to-infinitive clause:

“Can you pick me up from the station tonight?”
I asked him to pick me up from the station.

In questions we have to bear in mind that the subject comes before the verb. The tense often changes (see above). Note also that question marks are not used in reported questions:

“What’s the matter?”

She asked me what the matter was.

If the question is a ‘yes/no’ question, we use if or whether to report the speech. The auxiliary verb do is not used:

“Do you like Oasis?”
He asked me if I liked Oasis.

There are two verbs par excellence that report other people´s words, they are say and tell. In reported speech, said followed by that is one of the most common constructions. We cannot say told that. If we want to use told, we have to mention the ‘hearer’ by using an object (him, her, us, Bob etc):

“I love you but I can’t marry you!”
He told me (that) he loved me but couldn’t marry me.

Note! That is often omitted, especially in speech.

However there are other reporting verbs that imply the way or the mood the words were uttered. We can use announce, answer, reply, promise, claim, warn etc instead of the more common say, tell and ask:

“I’ll call you tomorrow.”
He promised he would call me today.

On the other hand we have to consider what is known as “free direct/ indirect speech”. It is used to report speech or the stream of thought. The reporting clause is omitted. The potentialities of direct speech sentence structure are retained. It is only the backshift of the verb, with equivalent shifts in personal pronouns, and time and place references that signals the fact that the words are being reported. In the case of free direct speech it is used in fiction writing to represent a person´s stream of thought. It is a form of direct speech but it is merged with the narration without any overt indication by a reporting clause of a switch to speech. Its distinguished form is the past time reference of the narration by its use of present tense forms.

Exercises in translating passages of direct speech into reported speech should not be treated as mere practice in mental gymnastics. Exercises of this type are really essays in comprehension and flexibility of expression. The following observations are offered as having particular relevance to use and teaching of the reported speech:

There are many verbs besides say and tell that can be used in reported speech and that are

often more expressive than these two rather neutral verbs. Some verbs used in direct speech cannot be used in reported speech, and have to be expressed with said and an appropriate adverb of manner indicating the way in which something was said.

Sometimes the tone of the original can be preserved in the reported version only by the use of said, again with an appropriate adverb of manner. Tenses are not always changed mechanically when speech is reported. It is especially important to remember this when dealing with conditionals.

In longer passages particularly, it is most important to preserve the spirit of the original and this consideration should be before a strict adherence to the form. Students must, therefore, not only understand the content but also appreciate the style and tone of the original if their own version is not to sound flat or unnatural by comparison.

5 BIBLIOGRAPHY

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English Grammar in Use, Raymond Murphy, Cambridge (2000)

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