Reported speech

Had a Skype two evenings ago with my old mate over in Russia and he had a question a colleague had asked him.

[18:53:37] J said, “I love Mary” = J said that he loved M.
[18:54:44] J said, “I loved M.” = J said that he had loved M.
[18:55:56] J said: “I will love M forever.” = J said that he would love M forever.
[18:58:33] J said, “I hate football”. “I told him that I hate/hated football.”
[19:07:44] The teacher said: “Water boils at 100C.” The teacher said that water boils/boiled at 100C.”

Let’s run this as this evening’s quiz. Which of the variants in bold is correct above? And is there a rule?

18 comments for “Reported speech

  1. dearieme
    September 18, 2017 at 19:10

    #4: Interesting one that. “I told him that I hated football” seems to me to be the idiomatic English. But if the point were to quote exactly what was said then: ‘I told him “I hate football”.’

    #5 The correct phrasing is “The normal boiling point of water is 100C” but that’s not much use if the class doesn’t know the technical meaning of “normal”. Even sloppier is “Water boils at 100C” because the reference to “normal” is suppressed.

    “Boiled” is the tense you’d use if describing an ‘experiment’ you’ve just performed in the class room.

    But these points on #5 concern scientific precision rather than idiom.

    • September 18, 2017 at 20:13

      “But these points on #5 concern scientific precision rather than idiom.”

      Tell me it’s not so. 🙂

      All right, what came out of that discussion, leaving aside the non-usage aspects, is that yes, it’s close to an idiomatic explanation.

      When one reports speech, it’s usually about a third party saying something – it’s not as clear in the boils/boiled but is quite clear in the hate/hated.

      There must be a first person intrusion in the reporting in an effort to stress something, lecture about a point, reiterate, emphasis[z]e in order to use present tense in the reported speech.

      Thus, if you were merely reporting about the football, possibly in answer to the question, ‘What did you tell him?’, you’d use ‘hated’.

      If however you were annoyed and wished to stress the point, you’d say, ‘I told him that I hate football, I told him many times but he wouldn’t listen!’

  2. Distant Relative
    September 18, 2017 at 19:18

    Water only boils at 100 degrees centigrade at sea level. The boiling point of water in London UK is 99.96 degrees centigrade 😛

    • September 18, 2017 at 20:04

      Just knew you’d do something like that!

    • Mudplugger
      September 18, 2017 at 20:30

      But if, as claimed, global warming causes sea-level to rise, what price your 100 degrees C then?

    • dearieme
      September 18, 2017 at 22:52

      Not if a jolly good Atlantic depression sweeps through, nor if we get one of those pleasant highs in the summer.

  3. Chuckles
    September 18, 2017 at 20:09

    “I told him that I hate/hated football.”

    ‘Football’ is an abstract concept, or a round leather ball. ‘hate’ is an emotion.
    Abstract concepts and things are incapable of emotion, or of feeling emtions, so it seems pointless to apply emotions to either.

    ” The teacher said that water boils/boiled at 100C.”

    ” The teacher said that water boils at the boiling point of water.”
    There, I fixed it for you.

  4. Robbo
    September 18, 2017 at 21:51

    I told etc usually takes past tense in the subordinate clause, by ‘sequence of tenses’ but if the sub clause is still true the present tense can be used.

    I told him I hated living in Tokyo. (I hated it at some time in the past and may or may not hate it now)
    I told him I hate living in Tokyo. (I hated it then and hate it now)

    • September 19, 2017 at 03:48

      Well noted although I would have written:

      “I told etc. usually takes past tense in the subordinate clause, by ‘sequence of tenses’ but if the sub clause is still true, the present tense can be used.”

  5. woodsy42
    September 19, 2017 at 00:47

    If reporting and being precise I suggest you should use the same verb construction as the person being reported. As Robbo noted hated might mean you did hate it but liked it now which is not what J said.

  6. September 19, 2017 at 03:24

    It raises a core issue for Russians who are so precise about Rulez which cannot be deviated from and often did their heads in.

    In English, we can validly employ options [but also ignorantly do so, which is the infuriating part to the fastidious] which “colour” what we’re trying to convey.

    As my Russian mate said, they too can adopt present tense as part of storytelling. “Well, I’m in this shop, see and this gorgeous bird comes in. Well …”.

    So he understood the idea of almost unconsciously adopting a usage not “strictly by the book” but for colourization [that word itself a mix of English and American I deliberately employed].

    Of course there are hard rules in English, e.g. The First Conditional and other Conditionals … but what about, “If I were a rich man”?

    Could [may/might] I say, “If I was a rich man?”

    What anyone trying to impart English to foreigners comes up against is just what a mongrel language ours is. I’ve given a few keynote speeches on that over the decades.

    By the way, could I have just written now: “I gave a few keynote speeches on that over the decades?” [And why did I switch to colon this time instead of comma?]

    May/can I come back to the opening sentence?

    “It raises a core issue for Russians who are so precise about Rulez which cannot be deviated from and often did their heads in.”

    Compare that to [with?]:

    “It raises a core issue for Russians, who are so precise about Rulez which cannot be deviated from and often did their heads in.”

    The rule states that there is no comma before “who”. I’ve always felt though that not to use a comma suggests that it’s only a particular type of Russian who does that. What if I wanted to say that all Russians have this issue?

    And so on.

    And we, in general, don’t analys[z]e what we say when we say it … we just say it. We employ devices to colour what we say.

    With many, if that does not leave the listener or reader actually disgruntled, then he or she [they?] would not be left exactly gruntled.

    Oh and what about the comma before “which” in the “Rulez” example just now?

    • Distant Relative
      September 19, 2017 at 10:53

      Didn’t Boy Watzizname do a song “Comma, comma, comma, comma, comma comedian”?

      Ok, I’m off…..

  7. September 19, 2017 at 05:39

    The precise, pissed Pedant poked the past participle.

    • September 19, 2017 at 07:00

      Poked? You don’t use Facebook by any chance?

      I feel duty bound to report my Russian mate’s reaction, though he was too polite to put it here but it does need to be said. I’d written:

      The rule states that there is no comma before “who”. I’ve always felt though that not to use a comma suggests that it’s only a particular type of Russian who does that. What if I wanted to say that all Russians have this issue?

      He replied:

      With all due respect I have to disagree. There is no such rule. Well, I mean “yes” and “no”. It all depends on the context and the intention of the narrator. The feeling which you have always had is actually prescribed by a rule – DRC and NDRC – defining relative clause and non-defining relative clause – you see what pain in the ….. I can be?

      Not a pain at all. Quite right to point it out. What I was referring to was how the Oxford book put it and this very discussion about the rule is one I had with students at the time. He is quite right – it’s about DRC and non-DRC but that was bridge too far for a blogpost I thought.

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