tenses, indirect speech and Q&A

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riceball72

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Hi

I really need some advise and help with this one because it seems all my explanations and what my co-worker is reading in the grammar books is not satisfying her!!!

I want to know if the normal rules for changing direct to indirect speech apply within Q&A format and which is more common of the two I mention below?

The situation:

she is making self-study material for non-native learners who will not have access to a native speaker when doing the material.
The Q&A are written so that the answer is partially written and the students have to fill in the gap with info from the story - exactly as it appears in the story... so the Q&A are all very controlled etc...... (don't ask!)

so she is using the story Matilda by Roald Dahl. This is an excerpt....


"So I buy an old dump that's got about a hundred and fifty thousand miles on the clock. I get it cheap. But no one's going to buy it with a mileage like that, are they? And these days you can't just take the speedometer out and fiddle the numbers back like you used to ten years ago. They’ve fixed it so it’s impossible to tamper with it unless you’re a ruddy watchmaker or something....

First Q&A - options
1. What kind of car did Matilda’s father say he would buy?
Matilda’s father said he would buy old cars that have about a hundred andfifty.....

2. What kind of car did Matild’s father say he buys?
Matilda’s father said he buys old cars....

Second Q&A – she doesn’t know if she should use ‘is’ or ‘was’.
1. What did Matilda’s father say was impossible to do with the speedometer.
Matilda’s father said that it was impossible to ....


Some info from the grammar books she has given me:

1. It is not always necessary to change the verb when you use reported speech. If you report something and it is still true, you do not need to change the verb.
Note – that it is also correct to change the verb into the past.

2. Sometimes the present tense is retained even in formal English when the reported sentence deals with a general truth.

3. Whatever the tense of your reporting verb, you put the verb in the reported clause into a tense that is appropriate at the time that you are speaking.

However, when the reporting verb is in a past tense, a past tense is also usually used for the verb in the reported clause even if the reported situation still exists. For example, you could say ‘I told him I was eighteen’ even if you are still eighteen. You are concentrating on the situation at the past time that you are talking about.

A present tense is sometimes used instead, to emphasize that the situation still exists.

Ok – so all this info form the grammar books supports what I have said to her but she still is not satisfied. She wants to know if it is ok to always put into the past – or when should we keep the present. She seems to want to create her own little rule.

Is one use more common than the other?
Can you recommend when you would use on than the other or is it just a preference thing?

Any help is really appreciated!!!!

smiles
riceball
 

David L.

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Does this help?

English Grammar - Reported speech

Statements

1) If the sentence starts in the present, there is no backshift of tenses in Reported speech.
Example: Susan: "I work in an office." Susan says that she works in an office.

2) If the sentence starts in the past, there is often backshift of tenses in Reported speech. (see: Note)
Example: Susan: "I work in an office." Susan said that she worked in an office.

Backshift of tenses
from
Simple Present to Simple Past
Simple Past, Present Perfect, Past Perfect to Past Perfect
will to would
Progressive forms
am/are/is to was/were
was/were has been had been to had been

Backshift of tenses
from to
Peter: "I work in the garden." Peter said that he worked in the garden.
Peter: "I worked in the garden." Peter said that he had worked in the garden.
Peter: "I have worked in the garden."
Peter: "I had worked in the garden."
Peter: "I will work in the garden." Peter said that he would work in the garden.
Peter: "I can work in the garden." Peter said that he could work in the garden.
Peter: "I may work in the garden." Peter said that he might work in the garden.
Peter: "I would work in the garden."
(could, might, should, ought to) Peter said that he would work in the garden.
(could, might, should, ought to)
Progressive forms
Peter: "I'm working in the garden." Peter said that he was working in the garden.
Peter: "I was working in the garden." Peter said that he had been working in the garden.
Peter: "I have been working in the garden."
Peter: "I had been working in the garden."
If the sentence contains an expression of time, you must change it as well.

Peter: "I worked in the garden yesterday."
Peter said that he had worked in the garden the day before.

Shifting of expressions of time

this (evening) to that (evening)
today/this day to that day
these (days) to those (days)
now to then
(a week) ago to (a week) before
last weekend to the weekend before / the previous weekend
here to there
next (week) the following (week)
tomorrow to the next/following day

Note:
In some cases the backshift of tenses is not necessary, e.g. when statements are still true.

John: "My brother is at Leipzig university."
John said that his brother was at Leipzig university. or
John said that his brother is at Leipzig university.

or

Mandy: "The sun rises in the East."
Mandy said that the sun rose in the East. or
Mandy said that the sun rises in the East.
 
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RonBee

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Excellent!
:up:
 

RonBee

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Say:
I really need some advice.​

Or:​

I need some help with this one.​

Say:
My explanations are not satisfying her.​

Say:
Any help would be appreciated.​
1. It is not always necessary to change the verb when you use reported speech. If you report something and it is still true, you do not need to change the verb.
Quite true.

:)
 
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riceball72

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David L
Thank you for your very detailed reply.

I have been able to get my co-worker to accept and understand that both are used, but now she wants to know which is more common, so she can decide which one to show in her exercises!!!

I have sent an email to friends who are teachers, but wondered what your opinon is.

To me it seems to depend on the kind of emphasize the writer/speaker wants to give???

smiles
riceball
 

David L.

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The direct speech is:
They’ve fixed it so it’s impossible to tamper with it unless you’re a ruddy watchmaker...

Second Q&A – she doesn’t know if she should use ‘is’ or ‘was’.
1. What did Matilda’s father say was impossible to do with the speedometer.
Matilda’s father said that it is/was impossible to ....

It's quite clear. He said it was impossible then and we have no information from the passage or common knowledge to say that the information has changed. Therefore, it is as true today as it was when it was said : Matilda’s father said it is impossible to tamper with...

compare:
"It is inconceivable that any rational Englishman would allow women to vote."
He said that it was inconceivable...

HOWEVER: Note that your friend's wording of the questions is determining the tense:

1. What kind of car did Matilda’s father say he would buy?
Matilda’s father said he would buy old cars that have about a hundred andfifty.....

2. What kind of car did Matild’s father say he buys?
Matilda’s father said he buys old cars....

Second Q&A – she doesn’t know if she should use ‘is’ or ‘was’.
1. What did Matilda’s father say was impossible to do with the speedometer.
Matilda’s father said that it was impossible to ....
(the answer to this question is, quite reasonably, "To tamper with it." The question is not changing direct into indirect speech, but one of elementary comprehension! )
 
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riverkid

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I have been able to get my co-worker to accept and understand that both are used, but now she wants to know which is more common, so she can decide which one to show in her exercises!!!

I have sent an email to friends who are teachers, but wondered what your opinon is.

To me it seems to depend on the kind of emphasize the writer/speaker wants to give???

smiles
riceball

You can't possibly hope to create the necessary situations which will give second language learners the opportunity to discern the differences. Let them practice the normal neutral backshift and inform them after that there are circumstances where ENLs have a choice.
 

RonBee

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ENL = English as a Native Language
ENLs = (Speakers of) English as a Native Language

:)
 

Quince.fil

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I've studied at the faculty that you can say

Mike told me he will come tonight. (meaning he hasn't come yet)
as well as ...would...
and also the option for would if he came before the moment of speaking, if now it's midnight and he left.

But I had some problems with an article I translated. The thing is, the article was published before a song contest. The officials said something about the song contest in January and it was to be held in May. That's why I wrote- They announced that it will be held in May. One professor said I was wrong.

What do you think about this one?
 

philo2009

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Ok – so all this info form the grammar books supports what I have said to her but she still is not satisfied. She wants to know if it is ok to always put into the past – or when should we keep the present. She seems to want to create her own little rule.

Is one use more common than the other?
Can you recommend when you would use on than the other or is it just a preference thing?

Any help is really appreciated!!!!

While it is certainly true that acceptance of unshifted tense-forms in nominal subordinates of past tense reporting verbs is increasingly widespread even among educated natives, and that and there may well be some pragmatic value in doing so in terms of conveying additional information about the current situation, my advice to the learner would nevertheless be always to apply tense concord rules, primarily for one very simple, practical reason, to wit that, whereas it will never be deemed incorrect to do so, it may well be deemed incorrect to fail to do so, and this is something that depends very much on the nature of the reporting verb. For instance, while we may happily 'get away' with saying, or even writing,

[1] The scientist explained that water turns to steam when heated to 100 degrees.

in place of 'classically' standard (if marginally less natural-sounding)

[1a] The scientist explained that water turned to steam when heated to 100 degrees.

, the same is not true of structurally analogous

[2] *I thought you are my friend.

, which cannot be substituted for

[2a] I thought you were my friend.

and note that its unacceptability is quite unrelated to the presence or otherwise of any intended implication as to the current state of my beliefs, our friendship, or anything else.

In view of this complex case-sensitive 'continuum' of acceptability, running the gamut from [1] (completely acceptable, except perhaps for the most formal academic writing) to [2] (completely unacceptable) - with any number of indeterminate cases falling between these two extremes upon which even natives might disagree! - the learner would clearly be better advised to follow what is, after all, a very clear and eminently learnable transformation rule than to risk producing a non-sentence.

Philo
 

RonBee

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I've studied at the faculty that you can say

Mike told me he will come tonight. (meaning he hasn't come yet)
as well as ...would...
and also the option for would if he came before the moment of speaking, if now it's midnight and he left.

But I had some problems with an article I translated. The thing is, the article was published before a song contest. The officials said something about the song contest in January and it was to be held in May. That's why I wrote- They announced that it will be held in May. One professor said I was wrong.

What do you think about this one?

They announced that it will be held in May - The event hasn't taken place yet, and it is scheduled for a date in May.

They announced that it would be held in May - The announcement stated that the event was planned for May. (Maybe they changed their minds. Maybe not.)
:)
 

soutter

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ONE STEP INTO THE PAST
Change the verbs in direct speech as below into indirect speech.​
SIMPLE PRESENT Becomes SIMPLE PAST
I walk ---- I walked
CONTINUOUS PRESENT Becomes CONTINUOUS PAST
I am walking ---- I was walking
CONTINUOUS PAST Becomes CONTINUOUS PAST PERFECT
I was walking ----I had been walking
SIMPLE PAST Becomes PAST PERFECT
I walked ---- I had walked
PRESENT PERFECT Becomes PAST PERFECT
I have walked---- I had walked
PRESENT PERFECT CONTINUOUS Becomes PAST PERFECT CONTINUOUS
I have been walking---- I had been walking
FUTURE Becomes CONDITIONAL
I will/shall walk---- I would/should walk
CONDITIONAL Becomes CONDITIONAL FUTURE PERFECT
I would/should walk---- I would/should have walked
FUTURE PERFECT Becomes CONDITIONAL FUTURE PERFECT
I will/shall have walked----I would/should have walked
THE PAST PERFECT NEVER CHANGES
PAST PERFECT---- PAST PERFECT
I had walked/I had been walking ----I had walked/I had been walking
COMMANDS GO INTO THE INFINITIVE
SHUT UP!​
HE TOLD ME TO SHUT UP.​
WATCH YOUR POCKETS IN CORNAVIN!​
HE TOLD YOU TO WATCH YOUR POCKETS IN CORNAVIN.​
DON’T SPEAK!​
HE SAID NOT TO SPEAK.​
NEVER TRUST A STRANGER!​
HE SAID NEVER TO TRUST A STRANGER.​
 

philo2009

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They announced that it will be held in May - The event hasn't taken place yet, and it is scheduled for a date in May.

They announced that it would be held in May - The announcement stated that the event was planned for May. (Maybe they changed their minds. Maybe not.)
:)

Yes, this comes under the heading of suspension of the normal rule on pragmatic grounds, since use of the present tense in the subordinate here serves to convey additional information, i.e. whether the month of May in question is a future or past one. The issue then becomes not one of structural acceptability but simply one of appropriateness or otherwise in relation to semantic intent.
 

soutter

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They announced that it will be held in May - The event hasn't taken place yet, and it is scheduled for a date in May.

What about using the present perfect and not bothering about some suspension of the rule?

After all another use of the present perfect (rather than the simple past as used above) is past consequences on the present.

Therefore:


They HAVE ANNOUNCED that it WILL BE held in May - The event HASN’T TAKEN place yet, BUT it IS SCHEDULED for May.


They HAVE JUST ANNOUNCED would be a redundancy.
 

philo2009

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What about using the present perfect and not bothering about some suspension of the rule?

I couldn't agree more: as my earlier post indicates, I would never advocate suspension of the rule to any learner. The phenomenon is, however, so very widespread among natives that to deny its existence, or the pragmatic grounds for it, would be somewhat unrealistic.

Your suggestion of substituting a present perfect for the past tense in this situation strikes me as a sensible option as far as recommendations to the learner are concerned.
 

soutter

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Frankly, recommendations for and fast (no such think I know) rules to the learner are all that concern me. Let them learn the construct and them mess about with it with ceratinty instead of uncertainty.


 
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