When writing final year exams, many marks are lost in the grammar section especially because of the inability to observe what I term here The Golden Rule in direct and indirect speech conversion.
Remember, indirect speech can also be called reported speech. (This is not about parts of speech that the examiner can also ask about.)
Direct speech deals with the actual words spoken and indirect speech rightfully reports on what was or is spoken, depending on the tense, for example: “I love bananas,” says Peter. This is a sentence in direct speech and it is easily identified by the quotation marks given. If somebody is to report this, it will be Peter says that he loves bananas. The issue now is whether there is a difference between “says” and “said”? What do we do with either? That is when the golden rule comes into play!
The golden rule dictates that before doing anything in a direct/indirect speech conversion exercise, one has to first of all ask oneself two pertinent questions viz 1. In what tense is the reporting verb? 2. In what tense is the direct speech? The golden rule says (a) when the reporting verb is in the past tense, usually represented by the word “said”, then all the verbs in the sentence must move a tense backwards (but of cause not sacrificing the subject verb agreement rule as will be demonstrated); and all the necessary changes must be effected. This however, does not apply to sentences in the past perfect tense which must not change. It also does not apply to the parts of the sentence that are either universal truths or scientific facts. Rule (b) says when the reporting verb is in the present tense, usually represented by “says” then nothing changes except the pronouns and again, the subject verb agreement rules have to be obeyed.
This is thus exemplified: (i) “I want to go home now.” Usually, the examiner will ask you to re-write the sentence starting with the following words: John said …….. You should then quickly see that the reporting verb is in the past (said) hence the (a) part of the golden rule must apply! Your answer will thus be: John said (that) he wanted to go home then. In this case, the inverted commas were used; the pronoun I changed to he and the time indicator now changed to then. The verb want moved a tense backwards from the present simple to the past simple. If the examiner’s supplied words are: John says, your answer will be: John says (that) he wants to go home now. Here it can be noticed that it is only the pronoun that changed and nothing else except want which changed to wants in order to conform to the subject-verb agreement rule.
(ii) “I forgot that water boils at hundred degrees Celsius and my teacher will punish me this afternoon.” Re-write starting with: John whispered. The reporting verb whispered is in the past hence part (a) of the golden rule must apply! Your answer will be: John whispered (that) he had forgotten that water boils at hundred degrees Celsius and his teacher would punish him that afternoon. It is clear here that the scientific fact remained unchanged but the verbs had to move a tense backwards. The temptation would be to say water boiled.
It should be clear from this that tense identification is necessary for successful conversion. In a very simplified way, “will” indicates the future tense, “has/have/had” indicate the perfect tense with the first two being the present and the last their past. It should also be mentioned that the perfect tense always uses the participle and care must be taken when it comes to the irregular verbs, for example “has eaten” not “has ate.” Also, some candidates have often created strange participles for some verbs producing the following non-existent words: “was chasen away from school” “he was cutten” “it was putten.” Remember, “cut/put/burst” remain the same in their past and present forms and the examiner usually wants to use these.