Conditionals And Unreal Tenses In Indirect Speech

     

Abstract

As a consequence of this author’s library of textbooks of English completely lacking, or only summarily dealing with the question of conditional sentences in reported speech – a topic which had neither been dealt with in his years of study, nor in the courses he had taught at any institute – he deduced the treatment that such sentences should be given on the basis of the little available information. Upon further delving into the question, the conclusions were cross-checked with any additional findings. While the intuitively-comprehended grammar was in agreement with those discoveries, it was felt that this material needed lớn be made more available khổng lồ a wider audience which might desire to lớn accurately reconstruct an original sentence from reported speech – a much more daunting task – & a question rarely dealt with. Although the need for such a transformation might be rare, inquiring minds may come up with the questions dealt with in this paper, & it behooves the language professional lớn have a ready answer.

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Introduction

This brief article looks at an aspect of reported speech which is often overlooked in textbooks, perhaps because that facet should be considered as self-evident, & as a corollary of what was already learnt. Consideration of the correct treatment to be afforded in indirect speech is not lacking when speaking of words such as “say”, “tell”, “request”, “command”, etc.; and indeed, such a list of words could be appropriate when dealing with a sentence that was stated as a conditional. However, it would seem that to lớn correctly convey the thought expressed in a conditional declaration, reported speech must take special pains to lớn avoid confusion as lớn what was said verbatim in the original statement, & not approximately. A web tìm kiếm using the terms “reconstruction of direct speech from reported speech” gave only one result among the first ten, và that was khổng lồ a very specific question. Should such a point of view seem to lớn be of little practical use, there are nevertheless those students who might come up with the question dealt here, và it may well be worth avoiding a red face by having a ready answer. We herewith look at the causes & possible cures to such situations.

The reader is forewarned that some of the stranger sentences here reflect a quirky sense of humour. As a web-based article, attempts at gaining visible placement require some non-standard practices. From time to time, the criteria varies – but of one thing we can be sure: where we would lượt thích to give all possible transformations of a sample sentence, it was felt more prudent to leave that as an exercise to the reader.

Basics of Indirect Speech

As this writer has pointed out khổng lồ his students, for all practical purposes, after a verb such as “said”, following the rule that the verb tense must shift back one màn chơi from what was originally used will achieve correct or acceptable results. Where it is possible to contemplate exceptions, it would do students well khổng lồ consider the particular demands of the teacher, or of any kiểm tra to be taken, so that one is not lulled into a false sense of security. Not all texts treat the subject of indirect speech with the same general solutions, và indeed, students who transfer from one school to lớn another, let alone from one country khổng lồ another, should not automatically assume that what they have learned as correct will be so considered in a different environment.

The following elementary principles reflect what this teacher considers as standard.

One need not know much about grammar to know that yesterday came before today, which is another way of saying that the past preceded the present. This truism allows us to giảm giá with quotations in the simple present tense in reported speech, by changing the verb to lớn the past. The same process is, of course, extended lớn the present perfect. (Other words in the sentence may require changing, but there is enough material to lớn be found elsewhere on that topic.)

Speaker: “There IS enough food on the table of gluttons.”

Indirect Speech of the preceding: The speaker said (that) there was enough food on the table of gluttons. “IS” in the quoted sentence changed to “WAS” in oratio obliqua. (Treble & Vallens, 1936, 99.)

Here is an example with the present perfect, with emphasis on results affecting the present:

Health Authority speaking: “There has been an epidemic of overeating in the country during the last few years.

Indirect Speech of the preceding: The health authority said that there had been an epidemic of overeating in the country during the last few years.

The English language is not so kind in providing us with suitable words for describing something which happened in a time past before another time gone by. Spanish has a word, antepasado, literally meaning “before (the) past”, but the first dictionary we looked at gives us the unsatisfactory renditions “passed” & “elapsed”. Another gives us “before past”, but using that in a sentence related khổng lồ grammar might provide a minor challenge. In light of the next Spanish word we present, it would seem strange that this seemingly “before-the-past” has nothing to vì with verb tenses, but with ancestors. We bring it up only because it seems khổng lồ be a “missing link” in a series of terms related lớn time.

Of course, we have the term “past perfect” or “pluperfect”, which are more arcane than the Spanish term we have given. Lớn keep things simple, we will point out that one Spanish translation of the present perfect is antepresente. As in English, though, different authors may vary in their usage of terms, and, for example, the các mục of past tenses & their alternative names in (Bello & Cuervo, 1945, p 164) is formidable. However, in neither English nor Spanish bởi vì we have a solution for giving a rendition of time even more previous lớn a such a period already defined prior to lớn another. The following diagram shows that Spanish did make a minor concession lớn a time period immediately preceding another, but that is as far as it goes. We must, of course, not fall into the trap of thinking that “before-the-present” implies the (simple) past, any more than lớn attribute a greater completion of anything in the here-and-now by the present perfect.

Past perfect —- simple past –Spanish antepresente — present perfect — simple present

If the present perfect were taken as a non-grammatical term, và understood literally, who would use it? We may postulate the Biblical characters, Adam and Eve. One says lớn the other: “We are living in the Garden of Paradise, in Eden, in the present perfect, in a perfect present.” Of course, they were yet khổng lồ learn that the present does not always have such a property. & Bible readers can tell us, for this couple, the grass was not greener on the other side, that is, it definitely was not a future perfect!

Teachers might consider asking students how lớn make the following sentence sound as if it were “more in the past” than it is at present; individual readers will find the solution below:

In a sentence with the present perfect, e.g.,

Speaker: “There HAVE BEEN enough wars in recorded history”, it is not even necessary to lớn know the name of the tense arrived at (if results are lớn be merely intuitive), because the present tense of the auxiliary verb changes into the past again, giving:

The speaker said (that) there HAD BEEN enough wars in recorded history.

Because we see no end to wars, the preceding sentence might easily be up for an examination as lớn whether the tense change is required, but we will follow the safe rule.

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The student who needs khổng lồ name the transformation has no choice but to lớn know that we have now used the past perfect, a.k.a. The pluperfect.

While a sentence has already been given in the present perfect in direct speech further above, we prefer, in that example, to lớn think that the epidemic referred khổng lồ is still with us in the present; while in this example about war, we would like to think that the problem is close to the present, but fading away. That such a sentiment is wishful thinking is another matter.

The teacher might have students try to put the following Lewis Carroll type nonsensical sentence into reported speech, lớn see what thoughts come khổng lồ them:

Moderator: Before the able fashioning of a cane, when wood WAS scarce, there HAD BEEN a dam on the river on the eve of creation.

If one were to lớn suppose that our grammar is lacking in the required tools lớn put this sentence into a khung even more in the past – something that seems to be rarely discussed, we can reply that the event before another makes time relations clear, even in reported speech:

The moderator said that before the able fashioning of a cane, when wood WAS scarce, there HAD BEEN a dam on the river, etc.

Hint: khổng lồ better understand the sentence, try reading it as “There had been …., before ….”

Reported Speech with Conditional Statements

Based on the foregoing, there should be, at first glance, no problem with the reported speech of a sentence like:

Science Teacher: If a scuba diver comes up too fast, he will get the bends.

The above, a zero conditional, or type 0, involving statement of a fact, with the “if” meaning “whenever”, is not a conditional at all. Reported speech in this case will not have any tense change for the words that were spoken.

The teacher explained that a scuba diver comes up too fast, he will get the bends.

Nor, by following standard rules, there will not be any problem with the first conditional, the real conditional in the present, nor in any other case where the main clause is in the present tense:

Disenfranchised Person: If I GET the vote, I WILL elect someone who IS in favour of justice.

Our reporter declared that the disenfranchised person WOULD elect someone who WAS in favour of justice if he GOT the vote.

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There is no problem here, but, if the first conditional – the real conditional in the present – is in effect the same as the second conditional, a difficulty in interpretation could arise. Let us see what I can invent:

Note: tìm kiếm engines consider repetition of key phrases as a sign of spamming or unfair attempts to lớn direct traffic to lớn one’s page; so, while desiring khổng lồ change only the verb tense in the following examples, it has been necessary to revise each sentence khổng lồ something sufficiently different. The reader’s indulgence & imagination is requested. The italicized segment is what was originally retained in all sentences of a similar nature. We have presented the desired text in image format, khổng lồ try lớn elude the problem mentioned.