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reporting clause


reporting clause

Philip Roth, The Anatomy Lesson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983)


An utterance (such as "she said," "he shouted," or "Cecil asks") that identifies the speaker (and sometimes the tone) of a reported clause in either direct or indirect speech. Also called an attributive tag.

The reporting clause has been described as "the reporter's link between [the] report and the discourse in which the report is embedded" (Semino and Short, Corpus Stylistics, 2004).

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "[Gatsby] broke off and began to walk up and down a desolate path of fruit rinds and discarded favors and crushed flowers.

    "'I wouldn't ask too much of her,' I ventured. 'You can't repeat the past.'

    "'Can't repeat the past?' he cried incredulously. 'Why of course you can!'

    "He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.

    "'I'm going to fix everything just the way it was before,' he said, nodding determinedly. 'She'll see.'"
    (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 1925)

  • "'I reckon you think you been redeemed,' he said.

    "Mrs. Hitchcock snatched at her collar.

    "'I reckon you think you been redeemed,' he repeated.

    "She blushed. After a second she said yes, life was an inspiration and then she said she was hungry and asked if he didn't want to go into the diner."
    (Flannery O'Connor, Wise Blood, 1952)

  • "The reporting clause consists of a subject and a verb of speaking or writing, as well as any other related information (Roger said; answered Tom; they shouted angrily). In indirect speech the reporting clause always precedes the reported clause, but in direct speech it may be placed before, after, or in the middle of the reported clause. When it is inserted after or in the middle of the reported clause, it is set off by commas, and the verb is often placed before the subject (said his mother; replied Bill). When the reporting clause is placed at the beginning of the sentence, it is usual to follow it with a comma or colon, which appears before the opening quotation marks. . . .

    "When a text has two or more people involved in a conversation, it is common for the reporting clause to be omitted once it has established whose turn it is to speak.
    'What do you mean by that?' demanded Higgins.
    'What do you think I mean?' responded Davies.
    'I'm not sure.'
    'Let me know when you are.'
    Note also that the convention of beginning a new paragraph with each new speaker aids in distinguishing the individuals in a conversation . . .."
    (Martin H. Manser, The Facts on File Guide to Good Writing. Infobase Publishing, 2006)

  • The Relationship Between Reporting Clause and Reported Clause
    "The following utterance from Charles Dickens's Great Expectations is an example of IS [indirect speech]: 'Once more, I stammered with difficulty that I had no objection' (Dickens, [1860] 1999, p. 109). The reporting clause is 'Once more, I stammered with difficulty' and the reported clause is 'that I had no objection.' . . . [I]ndirect stretches of speech presentation are often introduced by conjunctions like 'that,' 'if' or 'whether' and the reporting clause conventionally precedes the reported clause. In addition, the relation between reporting and reported clause is that of hypotaxis (that is, of dependence), while for DS [direct speech] it is often claimed that reported clause and reporting clause stand in a paratactic relationship (that is, they are clauses at the same level)."
    (Nina Nørgaard, Beatrix Busse, and Rocío Montoro, Key Terms in Stylistics. Continuum, 2010)

  • Inversion in Reporting Clauses
    "Fronting of objects accompanied by inversion is chiefly limited to reporting clauses, in which a verb of saying in the simple present or past tense takes the clause quoted as its direct object (OPS):
    (2) 'Eh?' said the driver.
    (3) 'I didn't hear anything,' answered the woman's voice.
    In examples like these, inversion, though not obligatory, is chosen in order to observe the principle of end weight."
    (Bache Carl and Niels Davidsen-Nielsen, Mastering English: An Advanced Grammar for Non-native and Native Speakers. Mouton de Gruyter, 1997)

  • Omitting That
    "You may have noticed that that is sometimes absent from reporting clauses. The decision to omit that is based on several factors. In formal contexts and academic writing, that is generally included. That can be omitted when (1) the subject of the that complement is a pronoun (it, she), (2) the reporting clause and the that clause have the same subject, and/or (3) the writing context is informal."
    (David Blakesley and Jeffrey Hoogeveen, The Thomson Handbook. Thomson Learning, 2008)

    "She said that she thought the land was under a curse and asked him for his opinion but he said he knew little of the country."
    (Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing, 1994)

  • The Reporting Clause as Speech Act
    "Crucially, quoting constructions involve two deictic centres, the current speaker's and the represented speaker's, and the former is construed by the reporting clause as a whole, and not just by the reporting verb. Indeed, the reporting clause as a whole describes the speech act, the content of which is given in the reported clause. By the same token, the whole reporting clause tends to construe the deictic 'frame' (McGregor 1997: 254-255) containing the spatial, temporal and personal reference points with regard to which the quote is interpreted."
    (Lieven Vandelanotte, "Quotative go and be like: Grammar and Grammaticalization." Quotatives: Cross-linguistic and Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives, ed. by Isabelle Buchstaller and Ingrid Van Alphen. John Benjamins, 2012)

  • Reporting Clauses in Spoken Discourse
    "In spoken discourse, the relationship between the reporting clause and the reported clause is more flexible than has previously been considered. The previous theories viewed the relationship as a subordination of a head (or main) clause and a subordinate (or complement) clause. However, in spoken discourse, a reporting clause often appears as extra information which the reporter can choose to include or not. In spoken discourse, the main information is the content in the reported clause and the reporting clause often behaves as if it were a comment clause. For discourse coherence, it is more natural to base tense determination consistently on the reporter's viewpoint rather than on extra information. Some reporting clauses behave flexibly as dialogue markers that function not as temporal reference points, but rather as hedges, evidential markers, source markers, and personal deictic markers."
    (Tomoko I. Sakita, "Discourse Perspectives on Tense Choice in Spoken-English Reporting Discourse." Reported Discourse: A Meeting Ground for Different Linguistic Domains, ed. by Tom Güldemann and Manfred Von Roncador. John Benjamins, 2002)

  • Tip
    "Leave said alone. Don't be tempted by the muse of variation to permit characters to opine, elaborate, cajole, or chortle."
    (Roy Peter Clark, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer. Little, Brown, 2006)

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