you want to ‘report’, or repeat, what someone else has said
or written, there are two ways of doing this:
This is when you repeat exactly
the original words. In writing, this would be in the form of a quotation:
claims that “attack is the best form of defence”.
Research conducted by Aggers & Blowers (1993) suggested that “laughter
is by nature a social activity”.
In your academic writing it is usually
best to keep direct quotations short, and not to include too many. See
Guide 1.13 for further information
on this subject.
This is when the writer’s
or speaker’s words or thoughts are summarised or paraphrased and
integrated into your own writing. As well as the actual process of summarising
the information in your own words, it may be necessary to change some
language such as words referring to time and place and/or verb tenses.
Time and place
Imagine that in 1998 Mouskouri wrote
the following about the economic situation in Greece:
here is likely to gradually rise over the next two years.”
If you are using this information
at Birmingham City University now, you would have to write:
reported that there would be a slight rise in unemployment in Greece
between 1998 and 2000.
If you don’t make changes
such as this, you would be giving confusing, false information and may
give your tutor the impression that you haven’t understood what
you have read.
Other words or phrases which may
need to be changed would include: last year, three years ago, this
century, next year, five years from now, nowadays; in this country,
our government etc.
If you are reporting general facts,
opinions or theories which are still true today, these would normally
be introduced in your writing with an appropriate verb in the present
tense and no changes to verbs in the original may be necessary.
So if Collingwood wrote in 1999:
of Elgar in the development of British music has been greatly exaggerated.
His music is at best lightweight and derivative; mostly, however, it
shows a complete lack of emotion or true musical form.”
(1999) claims that Elgar’s music has been overrated as it is technically
lacking and devoid of feeling.
Collingwood’s ideas are the
same now as in 1999, and Elgar’s music is the same as when it
was written, so the verb tenses do not change.
If, however, you are reporting what
someone actually said, or are referring to surveys, experiments, findings
etc from the past, you would then introduce these with a verb in the
simple past tense, and it may be necessary to change some, or all, of
the verbs in the original, unless you are again referring to facts or
situations which are still true. The most important thing is avoid any
For example, if a survey respondent
said several years ago:
“I find it
impossible to understand lecturers with strong regional accents.”
said that she found it impossible to understand strong accents.
as it is quite possible that her
understanding has improved.
However, if the survey was very
recent, or if you are sure that the respondent’s situation has
not changed, you would probably write:
said that she finds it impossible to understand strong accents.
If the situation has definitely
changed, then it is necessary to change the verb tense. If in 1987 Chandrasekar
system is undergoing major developments at the moment. Some underperforming
schools have been closed down and it is likely that many other schools
will merge in the near future."
(1987) described the changes which were taking place, pointing out that
some schools had closed and that others would probably merge.
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This is how verbs change:
The government considers...
The government considered...
Numbers are rising...
Numbers were rising...
The system has been changed
The system had been changed
He received the letter yesterday.
He had received the letter the day before.
The university was intending ...
|Past perfect progressive
The university had been intending...
“I will do it at once.”
She said she would do it at once
Children can marry at the age of 14.
Children could marry at the age of 14.
* note that the simple past very
often does not change. The modal verbs would, should, could, might,
ought and must also usually remain unchanged.
SUMMARY OF REPORTING VERBS
Note that some reporting verbs may appear in more than one of the following
1. Verbs followed by 'if'
or 'whether' + clause:
2. Verbs followed by a that-clause:
3. Verbs followed by either a that-clause
or a to-infinitive:
4. Verbs followed by a that-clause
(but note that it may be omitted, leaving a subject + zero-infinitive):
5. Verbs followed by a clause
starting with a question word:
6. Verbs followed by object
This summary adapted from:
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When you use information from books you have read you need to choose
a suitable reporting verb to introduce it. This choice will depend on
why you are using the information. What role in supporting your argument
does it have? There are three basic reasons for using a reporting verb:
• to present the aim of the study you are summarising/quoting,
'Smith (1999) examines the relationship between diabetes and heart
• to talk about the results that the author you are summarising/quoting
has found, e.g.
'Al-Mawali (2002) shows that deaths per capita in accidents are
particularly high in developing countries.'
• to give the opinion of the author you are summarising/quoting,
'Marklin (1998:76) argues that 'the adoption of just-in-time delivery
systems was the decisive factor for Japanese economic success in the
The following table summarises some of the most common reporting verbs.
N.B. some verbs (marked *) can be used to introduce either Results or
Opinion, depending on the context/grammar.
||identify (x) as
||point out (that)*
|be concerned with
may want to add a comment after the paraphrase/quotation to make its
significance clear to the
reader: ‘This means that ...' 'This shows that ...'
The tense most commonly used for reporting verbs is the present simple
(see examples above). However, other tenses are also important:
The past simple:
of course, it can be used to show that something happened / was written
a long time ago, e.g. 'This was demonstrated in the 1984 WHO report.'
But it is also used in two other ways:
• to increase the 'distance' between you, and what you are referring
'Lefevbre (2002) identified (x) as the main cause of (y) (but you think
he may be wrong).
• in scientific writing, to present methodology/results of one
specific piece of research, e.g.
'Data was obtained, and was cross-checked by .../ Brown found that ....
The results were consistent with ...'.
(N.B. when you move from 'results'
to 'discussion/conclusion', it is usual to move from past simple to
present simple, e.g. 'Therefore, the findings indicate that ...'. At
this point, you are moving from describing what happened in one piece
of research, to what may always/frequently happen, i.e. you are generalising.)
The present perfect: this is used to introduce a topic
by talking about general research in the area, e.g. 'Various studies
have looked at ...', or 'Few researchers have investigated ...'
(adapted from: www.efl.arts.gla.ac.uk/writing/repverbs.html)
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More on tense changes
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There is a general rule which says that when we use a reporting verb
in the past, as above, the verbs used in the original speech are usually
moved one tense further back. Thus:
will / shall future = would
is going to future = was going to
can / may = could / might
present progressive = past progressive
present simple = past simple
present perfect = past perfect
past simple = past perfect
This happens because the time and place where we are reporting the action
are different from where the original words were spoken. See what happens
in the following examples and note the pitfalls:
Present and future patterns
The Prime Minister said: 'I shall co-operate fully with the enquiry.'
The PM told the press that he would co-operate fully with the enquiry
(Take care to use would when reporting future shall / will. If we used
should here, it would suggest obligation and that is not what is meant.)
'You don't look very well. You should really stay in bed today.'
I told her she didn't look very well and should really stay in bed.
I advised her to stay in bed.
(Note that there is no past form of the modal verb should, meaning obligation,
so it cannot move one tense further back.)
'Are you going shopping this afternoon? Could you get me some toothpaste?'
I asked her if she was going shopping and could get me some toothpaste.
I asked her to get me some toothpaste if she was going shopping.
Similarly there is no past form of could for future requests, so it
cannot move one tense further back either. The same applies to might
'We might go out for a drink later on, if you're free.'
They suggested we might go out for a drink later, if we were free.
Compare this with the way in which can changes to could:
'I can't read this small print without my glasses.'
He admitted that he couldn't read the small print without his glasses.
'How did you find your way here in the dark? The paths are not marked.'
I asked her how she had found her way here as the paths are not marked.
(Note that because the lack of paths is an ongoing situation, we would
probably retain the present tense even in the reported situation)
'We've met before, haven't we?' ~ 'No, I don't think we have.'
He thought we had met before, but I was quite sure we hadn't.
Past perfect remains past perfect
Like should / might / could in the earlier examples, the past perfect
used in direct speech cannot move one tense further back in indirect
'If only I had taken your advice, I would have saved myself a lot of
He regretted / was sorry that he hadn't taken my advice.
He admitted that had he but taken my advice, he would have saved himself
On-going situation: no tense change
We have already noted an instance of this in the 'paths' example, above.
Here are two further examples of where it may or may not be appropriate
to change the tense:
I told her that I love her…and hope to marry her one day.
I told her that I loved her…but it was a lie.
Daughter: I'm going out now, dad.
Mother (out of earshot): What did she say?
Father: She said she's going out.
Granny: Where's Jenny?
Father: She's out.
Granny: She didn't tell me she was going out.
Father: She told me she was going out.
When reporting verb is in present or future: no tense change
Note that when we use present or future reporting verbs, the situation
we are reporting has not changed, so there is no tense change:
She wants to know where Paul is.
'Did he phone?'
I don't know if he phoned.
'Has he left already?'
I don't think he's already left. No.
'We've got tickets for the match, so we'll be able to join you.'
I'll tell Kevin you've got tickets and will be joining us. He'll be
'I shall not be resigning over this issue.'
A spokesman from the Ministry has confirmed that the Minister will not
be resigning over this issue.
(adapted from: www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/learnit/learnitv309.shtml)
Last updated: 27 May 2011