Reported speech – questions

In the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language; Huddleston and Pullum 2002, they make the following qualifying comment:

reported speech covers the reporting of spoken and written text but also that of unpoken thought. (p. 1023 – bold H&P’s)

We can immediately see from this excerpt that reported speech is being used as a technical term to represent a particular linguistic phenomenon, not as a literal interpretation of the two words ‘reported’ and ‘speech’. This is demonstrated by the fact that reported speech is given by these authors to include not only written text, but also unspoken thoughts.

In comments on this thread: it is proposed by various commentators that to be reported speech, there must first be some speech or thought to be reported. Reported speech, it is claimed, is a report ‘of what someone else said‘ (italics original).

However in their section on indirect reported speech (p.1024), two of the first examples of indirect reported speech given by CaGEL are:

  • Did she say if I’ll be invited?


  • Will I be invited, did she say?

Now the answer to both of these example questions (which are the same question framed in two different ways), may well be: “No, she didn’t”. One thing, for certain, is that the person producing the ‘reported speech’ here has no knowledge of the original spoken text at all. In fact, they don’t even know if there even was such a text in the first place. There may very well have been none.

So, on the basis of the views given by the commentators on the linked-to thread, which do not seem altogether unreasonable (with the caveat that the views are not unreasonable if based on either established practice or authoritative sources), this should not be classed as reported speech. There is no known original speech being reported.

My question is, are the two examples above, examples of reported speech? If so, what are the specific criteria for reported speech which are satisfied by the two examples. I have not been able to find any such criteria in CaGEL. If these are not examples of reported speech, which criteria of reported speech do they fail to meet? – and what authoritative sources can be referred to, to back up this point of view?

Apparently, such problems are easily resolved by recourse to readily available resources, but I have not been very successful. Any help or genuine insights, therefore, would be greatly appreciated!


The specific criterion for the syntactic construction called reported speech (or indirect speech or indirect reported speech) that is satisfied by the two questions (Did she say if I’ll be invited? and Will I be invited, did she say?) is that both contain the reporting verb “say” – either in the matrix clause or in what the CGEL (p1204) calls a “parenthetical, a kind of supplement“.

Assuming that John is the asker of the question, he could rephrase it in direct speech as: Did she say: “John will be invited?”

The Oxford Dictionary Of English Grammar, in its entry on reported speech (p361), states: “Reported speech is the same as indirect speech.” The ODEG continues: “When we report speech we can use an introductory reporting verb (e.g. say, tell). This is the usual meaning of the term.

In its separate entry on indirect speech the ODEG (p214) states: “The term indirect speech is often used loosely to cover the reporting of thoughts, using an introductory verb of thinking.

The Cambridge Grammar Of English (Carter & McCarthy, p805) extends the scope of indirect speech to include utterances that use a noun phrase:

Speech reports, both direct and indirect, are most commonly made with
reporting clauses containing verbs such as ask, say and tell with a
reported clause. There are also other, more indirect ways in which
people’s speech can be reported, by using nouns such as argument,
comment, complaint, observation, remark to refer to someone’s words.

  • I didn’t like his comment that we were spending too much money.
  • Their biggest complaint was that the room was too small.

The following extract from Yule’s discussion of the topic in Explaining English Grammar is more relevant as an answer to the OP’s original question about what can be regarded as reported speech (which was closed for reasons unclear to me).

Yule (p274) focuses on the semantic differences between direct and indirect speech, noting that:

The effect of backshift in tense (in indirect speech) creates a sense
of ‘more remote’ … This effect makes the indirect speech forms more
like a narrative account of an event (‘telling’) and distinct from the
dramatic presentation of the event marked by the direct speech forms

Yule goes on to introduce a third category that he calls “Summarized reports“, in which there is a even greater remoteness between what was said and what is reported.

The functional distinction between the dramatic nature of direct
speech and the narrative effect of indirect speech is made more
extreme when the structure associated with indirect speech is used to
summarize a speaking event as a way of reporting it. The difference
between what was actually said, as in [8a], and how it was reported,
as in [8b], can be quite large.

  • [8] a. “I am waiting here for you. Where are you? You’re never on
  • b. He complained about her being late.

The summarized report in [8b] creates an even greater distance between
the speaking event and the reporting event. It also results in much
greater control being taken by the reporter for the interpretation of
the speaking event. There is, then, a conceptual distinction between
the three types of reporting formats in English (Direct Speech,
Indirect Speech, Summarized Report).

Yule differentiates between the words typically used in the three “quotative frames“. For direct speech the quotatative frame includes verbs “which indicate the speaker’s manner of expression (e.g. cry, exclaim, gasp), voice quality (e.g. mutter, scream, whisper), and type of emotion (e.g. giggle laugh, sob). It can also include adverbs (e.g. angrily, brightly, cautiously).

The quotative frame in indirect speech tends to include verbs “which indicate the purpose of the utterance (e.g. admit, agree,deny,explain, promise, repsond, suggest). Such verbs present an interpretation by the reporter of the speech act being performed.

The quotative frame in summarized reports includes verbs such as “chat, describe, gossip, speak, talk“.

Source : Link , Question Author : Araucaria – Not here any more. , Answer Author : Community

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