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Unit 74 Reporting the past

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Main points

* A report structure is used to report what people say or think.

* You use the present tense of the reporting verb when you are reporting something that someone says or thinks at the time you are speaking.

* You often use past tenses in report structures because a reported clause usually reports something that was said or believed in the past.

1 You use a report structure to report what people say or think. A report structure consists of two parts. One part is the reporting clause, which contains the reporting verb.
I told him nothing was going to happen to me.
I agreed that he should do it.

The other part is the reported clause.
He felt that he had to do something.
Henry said he wanted to go home.
See Units 75-77 for more information on report structures.

2 For the verb in the reporting clause, you choose a tense that is appropriate at the time you are speaking.

Because reports are usually about something that was said or believed in the past, both the reporting verb and the verb in the reported clause are often in a past tense.
Mrs Kaur announced that the lecture had begun.
At the time we thought that he was mad.

3 Although you normally use past tenses in reports about the past, you can use a present tense in the reported clause if what you are saying is important in the present, for example:

* because you want to emphasize that it is still true
Did you tell him that this young woman is looking for a job?

* because you want to give advice or a warning, or make a suggestion for the present or future
I told you they have this class on Friday afternoon, so you should have come a bit earlier.

4 You use a present tense for the reporting verb when you are reporting:

* what someone says or thinks at the time you are speaking
She says she wants to see you this afternoon.
I think there’s something wrong.

Note that, as in the last example, it may be your own thoughts that you are reporting.

* what someone often says
He says that no one understands him.

* what someone has said in the past, if what they said is still true
My doctor says it’s nothing to worry about.

5 If you are predicting what people will say or think, you use a future tense for the reporting verb.
No doubt he will claim that his car broke down.
They will think we are making a fuss.

6 You very rarely try to report the exact words of a statement. You usually give a summary of what was said. For example, John might say:

`I tried to phone you about six times yesterday. I let the phone ring for ages but there was no answer. I couldn’t get through at all so I finally gave up.’

You would probably report this as:

John said he tried to phone several times yesterday, but he couldn’t get through.

7 When you are telling a story of your own, or one that you have heard from someone else, direct speech simply becomes part of the narrative.

In this extract a taxi driver picks up a passenger:
`What part of London are you headed for?’ I asked him.
`I’m going to Epsom for the races. It’s Derby day today.’
`So it is,’ I said. `I wish I were going with you. I love betting on horses.’

You might report this as part of the narrative without reporting verbs:

My passenger was going to Epsom to see the Derby, and I wanted to go with him.

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