English Language Tips May 10, 2011 by St Giles

Do you have a question about English Grammar? Ask the St Giles Grammar Doctor!

Welcome to our first monthly Grammar Doctor blog post!

If you are studying English and have any questions about English grammar, this is the place to come. Each month we will answer your questions about English to help you as you learn English with us.

This month’s question and answer below comes from the London Central monthly newsletter.

Question: Dear Grammar Doctor,

I’m a bit confused about reported speech. Do we always need to change the tense? I’m not sure that it is always necessary!

Confused from Paris
Answer: Dear Confused from Paris,

There is normally no tense change if the reporting verb is in the present tense. This is because there is no important change of time or circumstances. For example: ‘She say she’s OK.’

Similarly, after reporting verbs which are in the future or the present perfect, tenses normally remain the same. Again there is no important change of time or circumstances. Here is an example:

A: Jill, I’ve got a ticket for the concert, so I’ll be joining you.
B: I’ll tell Tim you’ve got a ticket and will be joining us. He’ll be so pleased.

However, what is said by somebody is often reported later at a different time and in a different place. This change of time nearly always results in a change of tense. When a past-tense reporting verb is used, the tense of what was originally said usually moves one tense back into the past.

The example below relates to a point in time which is still in the future even when the original speech is reported. Here we can keep the same tense: ‘They’ve explained that they’re getting married on 4th July and have bought a house in Manchester.’

Note that some verb forms cannot go further back into the past, even when they are reported at a later date. This applies to used to, the past perfect and past modal and third conditional structures.

I hope this helps you! From the Grammar Doctor.
Check back next month for another Grammar Doctor answer, or if you are studying English at St Giles London Central you can visit the Grammar Doctor in his (or her) surgery in the Self-Access Centre every Friday from 12.10 to 14.35. You can also send any questions to social@stgiles.co.uk and we will try to answer some of them in next month’s Grammar Doctor blog post.