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Rexy
03-04-2012, 22:42
Dear english speakers and english learners!

How important is it not to change the verb tense when we are reporting a scientific fact or when something is still true?

For example is it a mistake to say:

The teacher said Shakespeare was the greatest writer.

The scientists said Venues was the second planet from sun.

Chloe said he had to go to school every day.

Do this sentences have the same meaning as:

The teacher said Shakespeare is the greatest writer.

The scientists said Venues is the second planet from sun.

Chloe said he must go to school every day.

rusmeister
03-04-2012, 22:57
Dear english speakers and english learners!

How important is it not to change the verb tense when we are reporting a scientific fact or when something is still true?

For example is it a mistake to say:

The teacher said Shakespeare was the greatest writer.

The scientists said Venues was the second planet from sun.

Chloe said he had to go to school every day.

Do this sentences have the same meaning as:

The teacher said Shakespeare is the greatest writer.

The scientists said Venues is the second planet from sun.

Chloe said he must go to school every day.
In reported speech, we normally "take a step back" in tenses because the context usually changes.

If the context doesn't change, if we are reasonably sure the statement is still true, we don't change the tense.

So the answer to your questions is, in order: no, yes, no and yes, no, yes, respectively.

When I teach that stuff, I say things like "Alderaan is round" and then point out that in Star Wars, the context does change. "It ain't there; it's been totally blown away." So you would have to say, "The teacher said that Alderaan was round."

http://m.youtube.com/watch?desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DdjZFHTa6TfA&v=djZFHTa6TfA&gl=RU

Rexy
03-04-2012, 23:32
Thank you so much for your answer.
But isn't it a fact that Venus is the second planet from sun? It was so when the scientists stated it and it is still so now.

TolkoRaz
03-04-2012, 23:47
I assume that when they originally said it 'was' the 2nd planet from the sun, that was their understanding at the time.

But now, we know it 'is' the 2nd planet from the sun :10189:

peppermintpaddy
04-04-2012, 02:51
Thank you so much for your answer.
But isn't it a fact that Venus is the second planet from sun? It was so when the scientists stated it and it is still so now.
interesting point.....I think it is better English to say the scientist said venus was the 2nd planet....but it is also correct English to say the scientist said Venus is the 2nd planet.

Venus being the 2nd planet IS a scientific fact......whereas Shakespeare being the greatest writer isn't ,merely an opinion.

rusmeister
04-04-2012, 08:36
FWIW, I am a career grammar teacher and have been teaching for seventeen years. I'm pretty clear on the rules and their meaning by now.:)

To attempt to clarify and avoid misunderstanding (which is what good grammar helps us do, achieve precision of speech, and the associated clarity of thought), I'll repeat that NEITHER form - "is a planet", "was a planet" - is a mistake. But the past form does imply, at the very least, a potential change of context (see the attached YouTube video link above). The present form implies that the context, at least according to the person reporting the speech, has not changed.

Sparafucile
04-04-2012, 14:27
The teacher said Shakespeare was the greatest writer. .

It is a mistake to believe there are 'rules' about the sequence of tenses here. There are none, regardless what self-important people might say.

Reported speech is simply a matter of reporting the speech.

The tense used to describe the reporting should reflect the time when the speech was, is, or will be made - in the past, at present, or future. Viz:

The Patriarch said that the singers in Pussy Riot should be publicly whipped (it was a statement which this so-called 'churchman' made last week - in the past - Simple Past)

The Bible says that we should forgive sinners (the Bible is in print now, and if we look in it we will always find these words, in our present. Present Simple)

In future history books will say that America should never have invaded Iraq. (Such history books have not yet been printed - they will be printed in the future. Future Simple)

The tense used when paraphrasing the speech that was once said should reflect its truth and relevance at the moment it was said (and not falsify what was said!). Viz:

The teacher said that Shakespeare was a great writer (in Shakespeare's own time, when he was working in the early C17th. Past Simple).

The teacher said that Shakespeare is a great writer. (Shakespeare remains today among the authors who we read, and we rate his work highly even against authors who lived more recently. Present Simple)

The teacher said that we will call Dekker a great writer. (More research is being done on Dekker's work. We may not rate him highly now - but opinion will change in his favour. Future Simple).

Note that if the teacher said "Shakespeare was one of the finest dramatists of his time" it would be a falsification to say "The teacher said Shakespeare is a great writer". It's not what the teacher said!

__________________________________________________________________________

For anyone who thinks this is empty nitpicking, consider what happened as result of reading these sentences:

Colin Powell said Saddam Hussein had WMD.

Colin Powell said Saddam Hussein has WMD.

Billary Clinton said Iran has nuclear weapons.

Billary Clinton says Iran will have nuclear weapons.

peppermintpaddy
04-04-2012, 14:31
Rexy-i'll tell you a secret.....most English people do not speak perfect English(Im sure the same can be said of Americans,Canadians et al)......Ive heard many English people who spoke poor English.....David Beckham being one example......therfore I wouldn't worry too much whether it was "was" or "is" in those sentences

robertmf
04-04-2012, 14:40
Rexy-i'll tell you a secret.....most English people do not speak perfect English(Im sure the same can be said of Americans,Canadians et al)......Ive heard many English people who spoke poor English.....David Beckham being one example......therfore I wouldn't worry too much whether it was "was" or "is" in those sentences

:iagree: For example, in baseball only the present tense is habitually used when speaking.

Matt24
04-04-2012, 14:50
It is a mistake to believe there are 'rules' about the sequence of tenses here. There are none, regardless what self-important people might say.

I think you're dead right, without getting into arguments about bastardization of the core language / grammar and seniority of sense and meaning, the English language does allow ambiguities. My advice to Rexy would be to be consistent in your own usage and ignore / but don't hate those who take a different path - I've kind of screwed up the quote above, the other bit, apart from the absence of rules, that I have an overwhelming desire to agree with Sparafucile on is/was reported speech is exactly what it sounds like - if he said "I potato am" you should report "I potato am".

Well done chaps, another case solved.

peppermintpaddy
04-04-2012, 16:43
:iagree: For example, in baseball only the present tense is habitually used when speaking.

I wasn't talking about when he speaks about football...his English in general is poor.He was a helluva footballer though.

I remember him being interviewed once, he was saying how lucky he was being a footballer....he meant "there are people worse off than me" he actually said "there are worse people off than me"-it wasn't a slip of the tongue.....he does it regularly. When he and Posh lived in Mcr-they were reffered to as "Thick and thin"

rusmeister
04-04-2012, 18:38
I think you're dead right, without getting into arguments about bastardization of the core language / grammar and seniority of sense and meaning, the English language does allow ambiguities. My advice to Rexy would be to be consistent in your own usage and ignore / but don't hate those who take a different path - I've kind of screwed up the quote above, the other bit, apart from the absence of rules, that I have an overwhelming desire to agree with Sparafucile on is/was reported speech is exactly what it sounds like - if he said "I potato am" you should report "I potato am".

Well done chaps, another case solved.

I'm more motivated to respond to people who show a little respect...

I certainly agree that the language allows for ambiguities, and think I said as much in saying that both versions were possible.

I have to teach grammar; every day, all the time, and have learned a lot over seventeen years. Does that make me "self-important", as one member suggests? I don't think so, unless all professionals are "self-important" about something they really DO have to know better than the average bear. I have to teach people how to communicate their thoughts effectively and correctly, people who start off not knowing ANY English.

Are there rules in English? You bet your booties, or else we would not be able to communicate at all. But a rule is generally NOT an absolute "You must do this or a goon squad will come and get you" kind of thing. It is what is generally accepted by most people in most situations and is affirmed over time. How could we explain when the use of the present continuous verb tense actually means the present simple, or in Russian, where to put the particle "ли" in a sentence? Native speakers don't generally know how to explain thatsort of thing, precisely because they DON'T know the rule - and never had a reason to learn; they picked it up on automatics and so, it "feels" wrong when an error is made. But not knowing does not mean there is no rule. Most native speakers don't need to know their language well enough to be able to teach foreigners to successfully navigate it.

Anyway, the effect of Spara's comment is something like the effect would be if I implied he doesn't know much about music, or if I implied that I know more, when I know I don't deal with music issues on a day-to-day basis.

Anyway, Matt, the difference I described is real, and while there are many cases where it might not matter, there are many cases where it can and even does. I gave one good example (Alderaan), and there are any number of others. Direct speech DOES serve the purpose you describe; reported speech adjusts the phrasing to fit the new context when a thing is reported (for example) a world away and a hundred years later, and the grammar reflects that.

MickeyTong
04-04-2012, 20:41
Apropos of nothing......

Downfall of Grammar - YouTube

Rexy
05-04-2012, 01:56
Thanks to all! All the opinions were very helpful.

My students constantly ask me some questions that make me wish to choose some other occupation)) I feel absolutely worthless when I can't explain some simple things.

For example.

One boy says: " I am a boy".

How is it correct to report this sentence?
1) He said he is a boy.
2) He said he was a boy.

What is the difference in the meanings?
According to the rule the first sentence should be the correct one. He was a boy when he stated that and he is still a boy now.

robertmf
05-04-2012, 01:59
Thanks to all! All the opinions were very helpful.

My students constantly ask me some questions that make me wish to choose some other occupation)) I feel absolutely worthless when I can't explain some simple things.

For example.

One boy says: " I am a boy".

How is it correct to report this sentence?
1) He said he is a boy.
2) He said he was a boy.

What is the difference in the meanings?
According to the rule the first sentence should be the correct one. He was a boy when he stated that and he is still a boy now.

Skype ? robertintelford

"He said he was a boy" implies a sex change operation at an early age.

peppermintpaddy
05-04-2012, 02:22
Thanks to all! All the opinions were very helpful.

My students constantly ask me some questions that make me wish to choose some other occupation)) I feel absolutely worthless when I can't explain some simple things.

For example.

One boy says: " I am a boy".

How is it correct to report this sentence?
1) He said he is a boy.
2) He said he was a boy.

What is the difference in the meanings?
According to the rule the first sentence should be the correct one. He was a boy when he stated that and he is still a boy now.

Rexy-most perfectly competent people are full of doubt-And most native English speakers have to think hard to define the differences.Well,I do for one.
-youre reporting what he said verbatim-therefore the 1st sentence is the correct one...number 2 could imply that what he said was untrue...he was in fact a man for example,or a woman,or has been stated,had a sex change operation.

yakspeare
05-04-2012, 05:58
Rexy-most perfectly competent people are full of doubt-And most native English speakers have to think hard to define the differences.Well,I do for one.
-youre reporting what he said verbatim-therefore the 1st sentence is the correct one...number 2 could imply that what he said was untrue...he was in fact a man for example,or a woman,or has been stated,had a sex change operation.

More to this, it also depends on sentence stressmuch like in Russian):

He SAID he was a boy(this could potentially mean there is some doubt to his claim)

He said he WAS a boy( This implies there has been some change)

If there is no sentence stress, then was/is could just come down to the speaker's preference for language and imply much the same thing.

rusmeister
05-04-2012, 07:08
PP and Yak are both right.
What I was saying, Rexy, is the answer to your question, and all similar questions, with neutral intonation, when the only difference is whether the verb tense is "stepped back" or not. If the reporter thinks the context has NOT changed, he'll keep the given text. Otherwise, the default is to step back one tense. Contexts change more often than not.

yakspeare
05-04-2012, 07:38
It is more natural for me to step back in this situation and use was when using reported speech. It isn't always best to do so and can lead to some confusion, but I would naturally choose to go back as of habit.

peppermintpaddy
05-04-2012, 11:27
More to this, it also depends on sentence stressmuch like in Russian):

He SAID he was a boy(this could potentially mean there is some doubt to his claim)

He said he WAS a boy( This implies there has been some change)

If there is no sentence stress, then was/is could just come down to the speaker's preference for language and imply much the same thing.

Isn't the questioner asking how it should be written?

robertmf
05-04-2012, 11:48
Isn't the questioner asking how it should be written?

Rexy gets told what to write for classes. There is some discussion about this.

Matt24
05-04-2012, 11:57
Isn't the questioner asking how it should be written?

Ooooh! Back of the net! Clinical finishing, well done.

Sparafucile
05-04-2012, 14:51
Are there rules in English? You bet your booties

You claimed there was a rule that reported speech must be moved backwards by one tense.

No such rule exists. It makes an unauthorised alteration to the meaning. It's not just sloppy - it's actually wrong.

See my example about Colin Powell above, if you claim to disagree.

yakspeare
05-04-2012, 16:57
You claimed there was a rule that reported speech must be moved backwards by one tense.

No such rule exists. It makes an unauthorised alteration to the meaning. It's not just sloppy - it's actually wrong.

See my example about Colin Powell above, if you claim to disagree.

I always tell my students that English in fact lacks rules, they are more guidelines.

Basically from Beginner to Pre-Intermediate you learn all the rules, then from Intermediate and above, you learn that the rules have a zillion exceptions to them.

I will say , though, New English File Intermediate (Oxford Press) page 140:

Tenses USUALLY change like this: present>past; will>would; past simple/present perfect>past perfect.

"Are you married?" > She asked him if he was married.
"What's your name?" > I asked him what his name was.
"Where do you live?" > They asked me where I lived.

This is an Oxford publication.

rusmeister
06-04-2012, 14:02
This is attempt number two to post.

My iPad browser crashes frequently, and sometimes reloads, erasing whatever I write online.

The one conciliatory thing I can say is that it appears we have different understandings of the word "rule". I mean it as in "the rule vs the exception"; what you find most of the time as a general.... oh, wait, can't define a word by itself... ;)
You guys appear to mean "a regulation", an inflexible thing that is a violation to break.

In the sense I mean - what we do find in the use of the language, is that the "step backwards" is used when the context is believed to have changed, or is very likely. If it has certainly or most likely not changed, we don't generally change the tenses or other (this - that, tomorrow-the next day, etc) words that have a distancing effect. That is what I mean by "the rule". If Colin Powell, or anyone, is dead, we will not use the present tense to speak about what they are or do in any literal sense. So while you may be able to report "Pushkin has a great effect on you", you mean the reading of his works, not any action in our time by the man himself. But you would certainly NOT report "Pushkin writes great books.", even if Belinsky said it. So we DO see a rule at work here, even though there are many examples, particularly from modern life, that would be ambiguous.

Spara, I can only say that your statements about my knowledge of grammar are at least as insolent as any statement of mine would be that you know nothing about music, or that my knowledge of music is superior because I happen to listen to and like music. If I am in the presence of a professional musician speaking about professional processes and knowledge, I just plain need to shut up and listen, and will take your word for it that you are indeed a musician, and respect your professional knowledge and experience, and give you credit for probably knowing more than me. I am a professional grammar teacher, and have been so for seventeen years. In my first four years alone, I racked up more than 6,000 classroom hours (astronomical sixty-minute hours, for those who distinguish). After that, I stopped counting. If I make mistakes now, it is mainly because my iPad frequently betrays me with its virtual keyboard, NOT because I don't know grammar and spelling - and I do, like the back of my hand, much better than most native speakers, and that is no more "self-important" than any assertion by you that you really happen to know something about music. I HAVE to know the grammar of English inside-out, as it is my livelihood, and I have to justify myself before paying students. I don't know absolutely everything, but I think there is hardly anyone here on expat.ru that knows more. (I'd admit MAYBE one or two, but that's doubtful.) So if you want to take me on in grammar, good luck.
(This is also why, though I am also skeptical about some of Yak's claims, I am less willing to rush to judgement - he may assess differently than we would, but I imagine that he DOES successfully teach a fair number of things, even if we would not admit native fluency in his students. I do know that the Headway programs CAN be covered in the time frames he specifies. I just think most students will not have the level of complete retention and instant grasp of things that a full success rate would call for.

Sparafucile
06-04-2012, 14:16
In the sense I mean - what we do find in the use of the language, is that the "step backwards" is used when the context is believed to have changed, or is very likely.

I fail to understand why you believe it's desirable - nay, recommended! -to report things as happening earlier than they really did.

I cannot understand why you insist on pushing your theory upon students, when it's clearly not any kind of 'rule' in English.

Colin Powell's statement about WMD - which he used as a pretext for invading Iraq - was that Saddam Hussein was in possession of WMD at that time. He didn't say that Saddam had previously had them. He said Saddam has them now. And AFAIK Powell continues to believe - to present date - that there are as-yet unfound WMD in Iraq.

Weaselly use of incorrect and falsified statements covers-over the tracks of the atrocities which followed.


So if you want to take me on in grammar, good luck.

Your move.

rusmeister
07-04-2012, 17:00
note:
This message is hidden because Sparafucile is on your ignore list.

Ibanez
07-04-2012, 17:51
This is attempt number two to post.

My iPad browser crashes frequently, and sometimes reloads, erasing whatever I write online.

The one conciliatory thing I can say is that it appears we have different understandings of the word "rule". I mean it as in "the rule vs the exception"; what you find most of the time as a general.... oh, wait, can't define a word by itself... ;)
You guys appear to mean "a regulation", an inflexible thing that is a violation to break.

In the sense I mean - what we do find in the use of the language, is that the "step backwards" is used when the context is believed to have changed, or is very likely. If it has certainly or most likely not changed, we don't generally change the tenses or other (this - that, tomorrow-the next day, etc) words that have a distancing effect. That is what I mean by "the rule". If Colin Powell, or anyone, is dead, we will not use the present tense to speak about what they are or do in any literal sense. So while you may be able to report "Pushkin has a great effect on you", you mean the reading of his works, not any action in our time by the man himself. But you would certainly NOT report "Pushkin writes great books.", even if Belinsky said it. So we DO see a rule at work here, even though there are many examples, particularly from modern life, that would be ambiguous.

Spara, I can only say that your statements about my knowledge of grammar are at least as insolent as any statement of mine would be that you know nothing about music, or that my knowledge of music is superior because I happen to listen to and like music. If I am in the presence of a professional musician speaking about professional processes and knowledge, I just plain need to shut up and listen, and will take your word for it that you are indeed a musician, and respect your professional knowledge and experience, and give you credit for probably knowing more than me. I am a professional grammar teacher, and have been so for seventeen years. In my first four years alone, I racked up more than 6,000 classroom hours (astronomical sixty-minute hours, for those who distinguish). After that, I stopped counting. If I make mistakes now, it is mainly because my iPad frequently betrays me with its virtual keyboard, NOT because I don't know grammar and spelling - and I do, like the back of my hand, much better than most native speakers, and that is no more "self-important" than any assertion by you that you really happen to know something about music. I HAVE to know the grammar of English inside-out, as it is my livelihood, and I have to justify myself before paying students. I don't know absolutely everything, but I think there is hardly anyone here on expat.ru that knows more. (I'd admit MAYBE one or two, but that's doubtful.) So if you want to take me on in grammar, good luck.
(This is also why, though I am also skeptical about some of Yak's claims, I am less willing to rush to judgement - he may assess differently than we would, but I imagine that he DOES successfully teach a fair number of things, even if we would not admit native fluency in his students. I do know that the Headway programs CAN be covered in the time frames he specifies. I just think most students will not have the level of complete retention and instant grasp of things that a full success rate would call for.


You write your posts on Ipad?? Kudos - given the length of them...