Anomalies with Reported Speech

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Welcome to your Anomalies with Reported Speech lesson! In this topic we talk about:
• When to not change the verb
Other reasons to use the past
The difference between “Say” and “Tell”
The difference between “Tell” and “Ask”
Take the quizzes when you’re ready! If you’re having problems, use the comment box to contact our English Teachers.

When to not change the verb

It’s not always necessary to change the verb when you use reported speech. If you report something and the situation hasn’t changed, you are not obliged to put the verb in the Past Simple:

Direct speech
Marcus said “My wife cooks the best spaghetti.”

Reported speech
Marcus said that his wife cooks the best spaghetti.”

 

Direct speech
James said “This is the hardest lesson on the site.”

Reported speech
“James said that this is the hardest lesson on the site.”

If you like, you can also put the verb in the past, the meaning of the sentences doesn’t change:

“Marcus said that his wife cooked the best spaghetti.”

“James said that this was the hardest lesson on the site.”

If you are reporting a finished situation, however, you must use the past:

“He left the room quickly, he said he had to go.”
(not “…he has to go.”)

Other reasons to use the past

You have to use the past form when there is a difference between what is said, and what is really true. Have a look at this example:

You met David a few days ago, he said to you “Mark is in Japan.
Later that day, you go for a walk in town and you see Mark. You say to him:

“I didn’t expect to see you, David told me that you were in Japan.”

The difference between “Say” and “Tell”

If you want to say who someone is talking to, use “tell”. The word order is “subject + tell + object + information”. Look at these examples:

“David told me that you were in Japan.”

“He told me to wait.”

If you don’t want to say who someone is talking to, or if it’s obvious, use “say”. The word order is “subject + say + information”. Look at the same two examples in this form:

“David said that you were in Japan.”

“He said that I had to wait.”

So, you cannot use “say somebody something”:

“David said goodbye and left.”
(not “David said me goodbye…“)

“He said that I had to wait.”
(not “He said me that I had to wait.“)

The difference between “Tell” and “Ask”

We often use the infinitive in reported speech, especially with tell and ask. Especially for orders and requests:

Direct speech
Take these pills every day.” the doctor said to me.

Reported speech
“The doctor told me to take these pills every day.”

 

Direct speech
“Please, speak more slowly.” I said to Bob.

Reported speech
“I asked Bob to speak more slowly.”

 

Direct speech
Don’t tell anyone what I did.” She said to me.

Reported speech
“She asked me not to tell anyone what had happened.”

You could also say:
“She said not to tell anyone what had happened.”

Recap

  • If you report something and the situation hasn’t changed, you don’t have to use the Past Simple, you can use the Present Simple.
  • You must use the Past Simple if the direct speech was not true.
  • If you want to say who someone is talking to, use “tell”, if you don’t, use “say”.

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