Reported Speech

reported speech

Don't ask, don't tell

This strategy has never been very clever, but it might be your only way around this chapter.

For all those who do want to ask and tell and chatter (preferably about other people) it is inevitable to jump right into the middle of one of the deepest linguistic pitfalls we can find.

Imagine a situation in which Mrs Talkative tells Mrs Curious something that Mrs Chatterbox (who is usually not present) said. Does this sound familiar?
No, we are not going to talk about women in general, but concentrate on the grammatical aspects of the process described above.

Reported speech are complex sentences starting with a main clause  (usually something like She said) followed by a subordinate clause (for instance she didn't like you) repeating the original statement. Between both there is no comma, but the word that can (but does not have to) link both sentences. This results in:

She said (that) she didn't like you.

Unbelievable, isn't it? Especially because you are such a nice person!

In reported speech a statement is repeated to a third person by somebody else; often in a different place at a different time. This somebody else is usually in a conflict because

There is a solution to the problem. The grammatical category of the subjunctive.

The bad news: The English subjunctive is (almost) dead.

It partly survived in the form of three little words (would, should, could) that do not help us too much with our problem here. Historically, however, the subjunctive was closely related to the past forms.

And that is exactly what we do in reported speech:
We shift the tense of the sentence back towards the past. For obvious reasons this is called the shifting rule. (click to learn more)

As said above, the statements are rarely repeated in the same place and at the same time. And if the original sentence contained a me or my father, this will often have to be changed, too. (Yes, of course you are allowed to repeat your own sentences, but isn't it much more fun to talk about others?)

So if your friend tells you

My father buys me an expensive car.

you cannot come home and tell everybody

My friend said my father bought me an expensive car.

(If you don't know why, your father will tell you.)

As a result, there are also some logical changes to be considered.

Yes? Sorry, but life is not that simple. Language even less so.

Do you remember the last time you woke up from one of those nice dreams and stared into the face of your teacher, who seemed to be waiting for something? The fading echo of your teacher's voice in your ear sounded like a question, but there was not a single word you remembered. Just then your friend helped you out and whispered a ... you guessed it ... reported question.

If you now really think you know your grammar, then please produce a reported speech sentence of

Do you really think we are ready now?

You will soon see that a question needs a slightly different treatment. I would like to know if you find this one difficult. See more about reported questions here.

You probably learned how to react on commands like this long ago.

No, running away is wrong. Don't forget you are living in the 21st century. Right, you run to your family lawyer and complain about school.

But do you also know what to tell your lawyer? Do you know what to do with an imperative in reported speech?

Follow the link to find the answer.

That's all about reported speech. Have a break now. This is a command and in reported speech this sentence changes to...