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English as a Second Language/Reported speech vs. past tense

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QUESTION: Dear Amy,

I have a problem with reported speech and past tense. For example, look at this sentence:

"He said he loved her", which is the reported sentence of "He said, 'I love her'."

When we say "he loved her", it means a completed action in the past and has nothing to do with the present but the reality is that "he still loves her".

Another example, "I asked him whether he had enjoyed his long life" is the reported speech of "Have you enjoyed your long life?) (direct speech). If we say "did you enjoy your long life" this means that the life is finished.

I have this problem with reported speech. Please help me out in a detailed reply.

Kind regards,
Antoine Ghannoum

ANSWER: Hello Antoine,

First of all, "He said he loved her" is the reported sentence of "I love her" - I guess this is why you are confused.

There is a difference between:

He loves her (now, at present)
He loved her (at some point in the past)
and
He said he loved her (reported sentence) This last sentence doesn't mean that he doesn't love her anymore, but simply that at some point in the past he said: "I love her".

I asked him whether he had enjoyed his long life. Again, this is reported speech, not past tense.

The past tense and the reported speech are two different entities in English Grammar.

You can read more about the reported speech here:

http://www.perfect-english-grammar.com/reported-speech.html

I hope this helps.

Best,

Amy



---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Dear Amy,

Thanks for your swift reply!

I haven't checked the link yet. In the meantime, if I say "He said he loves her" (past tens plus present tense) to mean that he still loves her, will there be a problem of any kind? I once read that this may be possible if we want to express a fact ("I was taught that the earth is round", (past tense plus present tense) for example).

Please reply in detail.

Kind regards
Antoine Ghannoum

ANSWER: Antoine:

I usually encourage my students to stay away from sentences like "He said he loves her" as they may be confusing.
I'd say "He said he loved her. He still loves her today." to show that he still loves her now/today
or "He said he loved her. He no longer does." to show that the love "ended" at some point in the past

"I was taught that the earth is round" is correct and yes it means that the earth was and still is round. This is indeed a fact, while the above sentence is not exactly a fact.

I hope this helps.

Looking forward to more of your questions.

Best,

Amy

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Why do you say that "they may be confusing"?

Answer
Antoine,

this would actually go back to your original question/confusion.

If I were to say: "He said he loves her" it may be difficult for the person reading the sentence to figure out what I mean mostly because the tenses of the two verbs in the sentence above are mismatched: said (Past Simple), loves (Simple Present).

In English we mix verb tenses all the time but it depends on the context. The context is the one that offers more clues about the meaning of a sentence. When analyzed in isolation a sentence like "He said he loves her" or even "He said he loved her" can cause confusion.

Here is another link that may help you with this topic:
http://www.dailywritingtips.com/5-lessons-for-mixing-past-and-present-tense/

Best,

Amy

English as a Second Language

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Amy Baker

Expertise

I can answer question about grammar, spelling, syntax, idioms, reading and/or writing that pertain to English as a Second Language. I am knowledgeable about both TOEFL and IELTS.

Experience

I'm a certified ESL teacher with 12 years of experience teaching K-12 and adults.

Education/Credentials
BSc MEd TESL post grad program for k-12 TESL post grad program for adult ed

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