School Report

I think I prepared quite a good lesson today. It's about indirect speech, also known as reported speech.

If you say "Bill said "I love you"", that's a direct quotation. If you say "Bill told me that he loved me", that's indirect speech. See how the present tense "love" becomes the past tense "loved"?

In English you've got four basic sentence shapes for declarative sentences in the present tense, and another four for the past. If you want to report a present sentence, you shift it to the corresponding past - "Bill gates is the antichrist" becomes "Kapitano said Bill gates was the antichrist", "It's been an interesting year" becomes "Kapitano said it'd been an interesting year", and so on.

If the sentence you want to report is already in the past, you don't change the tense - "The emperor wrote hakius" becomes "Kapitano said the emperor wrote haikus", "Stocks had been falling" becomes, rather boringly, "Kapitano said stocks had been falling".

Ah. But. If the reported sentence is in the past simple, you have the option of putting it into the past perfect, so "Gore Vidal ate ice cream" could become either "Kapitano said Gore Vidal ate ice cream" or "Kapitano said Gore Vidal had eaten ice cream".

Fairly simple though. Unless of're reporting speech that has just happened, or that you think refers to states that are still true, in which case you've got a load more options:

"I'm going slightly mad" becomes "He says he's going slightly mad" or "He said he's going slightly mad" or "He said he was going slightly mad".

"Apes are descenced from men" becomes "Roddy McDowall says are descended from men", or "Roddy McDowall said apes are descended from men", or "Roddy McDowall said Charlton Heston was his ancestor".

I put together a little story/test to demonstrate the simpler transformations, and I'm vaguely proud that it's slightly readable as a story while still showing the grammar:

A famous actor is ill in hospital, and a journalist interviews him. This is what he tells her:

"I'm happy here. I'm feeling very tired right now, but I've been tired many times before. I've been thinking about my next movie!

I acted in some very bad films when I was young, but I was always looking forward to the next one. I'd acted in small films, but I was getting bored with that, so I said to myself "I want to be in bigger films!"

I'll leave this hospital soon. I'll be glad to be out of here. Next year, I'll have forgotten these tubes and needles, and I will have been acting in a new film for six months."

Ten years later the actor has just died, and the journalist writes his obituary article. She remembers what he said to her in hospital, and she reports it. What does she write?

"He said he was happy there. He said he was feeling very tired, but that he'd been tired many times before. He told me he'd been thinking about his next movie.

He also said he'd acted in some very bad films when he was young, but that he was always looking forward to the next one. He said he'd acted in small films, but he'd been getting bored with that, so he'd said to himself that he wanted to be in bigger films.

Then he told me he'd leave that hospital soon and that he'd be glad to be out of there. He said that next year he'd have forgotten those tubes and needles, and he would have been acting in a new film for six months."

It would have been an even better lesson if the student had turned up.

Okay, there was a mixup over time, but Veli did turn up. Two surprises - first, he polished off the above lesson in twenty minutes, and second he turns out to be only sixteen. Evidently a very well nourished sixteen.

He brought along some specimen exam papers, which we went through. My god. To pick an example, what's wrong with this sentence?

"Whether late nineteenth century classic literature should have taught in schools has proven to be a controversial issue"

Okay, it's not too difficult for native speakers to see that it should be "...literature should be taught in...". But why? Why is "have" wrong and why is "be" correct? How would you explain it?

"Should be taught" is an agentless present-simple passive describing a stable, ongoing situation constituted by repeated action. But it actually took me about a minute to see that. The sentence with "have" is in fact perfectly grammatical - just with a fantastical meaning.

Anyway, I'm happy because my package arrived from England. Containing a rather nice camera for recording the local sights, plus extras of a lead, collar and anti-flea pills for Wednesday.

So, I'm off to snap the local colour. Just as soon as I've figured out which buttons to push.

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