Says, is saying, will tell and has told...
Hello again Marcos!
I hope you had a relaxing weekend. The weather was good here (and it’s a sunny day again today) so I’m not sure what the mackerel sky I pointed out in my post on Friday meant after all. Maybe it was signalling a change from wet to dry weather, rather than dry to wet…..
Anyway, I’m going to continue with the topic of representing speech in writing that you asked about. Do let me know when you have had enough! We’ve been talking about said and told – so today I am going to look at say, is saying, will tell and has told.
In a previous post I said that said and told (in the past simple tense) are the most common reporting verbs. The past simple tense is usually used when a writer is referring to a single occasion of speech in the finished past. For example:
Mr Musharraf said his appeals for reconciliation with his opponents had fallen on deaf ears.
I counted six uses of said in this report: BBC LE - Words in the News: Musharraf resigns
Other possible verb forms are say(s) (the present simple tense), is saying (the present progressive tense), will tell (for a future event) and has told (for something that was said in the recent past, possibly with important consequences for the present).
Reporting verbs in the present simple are used when the writer believes that the reported speech is: always true, relevant or commonly said (present tenses are often used to suggest something permanent) and for dramatic effect. For example:
His officials say he [Gordon Brown, UK Prime Minister] wants to listen as well as lead in London.
Full report here: BBC LE: Leaders gather for G20 summit
In this report say creates a feeling of events happening at the time of writing; this is a ‘dramatic’ effect often used by news reporters to highlight the newsworthiness* of their report. The use of say here transforms a very ordinary (and slightly meaningless??!!) phrase into News. This reporting of a slightly meaningless phrase as News could be seen as benefitting Gordon Brown’s image….what do you think?
In contrast, a writer who uses the present progressive (is saying) to report speech, creates the impression of a temporary opinion (which might change) or of something that is being said right now. For example:
The Chancellor is saying that an increase in tax is necessary.
I couldn’t find an example in a BBC News report of is saying, so perhaps this is not a very common usage in written English. More about the frequency of these different ways of reporting speech in my next post….
Next are two forms of the reporting verb tell: will tell (for a future event) and has/have told (for something that was said in the recent past, and/or which was said in the past but has an effect on the present):
He [Gordon Brown] will tell the assembled Senators and Congressmen that they have the chance to work with the 'most pro-American European leadership in living memory'.
Full story here: BBC LE - Words in the News: Gordon Brown addresses Congress
The jury in the Phil Spector murder case has told the judge that it cannot agree on a verdict.
Full story here: BBC LE - Words in the News: Spector jury deadlock on verdict
Tell focuses on the (in this case, important) content of the message, rather than the actual words. Has told emphasises the effect in the present of this past event; because the jury can’t decide, there may need to be a re-trial.
OK that’s it for now. I’ll come back to the topic of frequency in my next post – with a tip about how to do your own research into frequency using search tools and concordancing.
Hope you have a good week!
newsworthiness* = something that is interesting enough to be covered in the news.
Comments on the comments:
Jose (from Spain) – welcome to the blog!
Daria (from Russia) – yes, it’s my voice on the Mackerel sky video in my previous post. My trusty assistant, Clara (age 12), wasn’t available at the time, so I had to do my own work! I am still trying to persuade Rian (age 14) make a video, but he’s a little more camera shy than Clara. I’ll keep trying!
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