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Which of the following is the correct conversion to reported speech?

Ms. A said: “She gave up on the justice system and on the government. That's why she committed suicide.”

  1. Ms. A said that she had given up on the just system and on the government. That's why she had committed suicide.

  2. Ms. A said that she had given up on the just system and on the government. That's why she committed suicide.

Doesn't the first conversion makes it confusing as to which action happened first?

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The first is confusing only to those who are confused about people being able to do things after death. That said, I prefer the second for stylistic reasons. –  Robusto Apr 10 '12 at 10:18
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Is the original sentence authentic? It reads more correctly as: Ms A. said: "She had given up on the justice system. That's why she committed suicide.” (I am assuming here that Ms. A and she are different people.) –  Shoe Apr 10 '12 at 10:43
    
@Shoe- No, I read something similar in the newspaper. But not the exact wording... –  Noah Apr 10 '12 at 10:49
    
@Shoe- Fixed it. Thanks!!! –  Noah Apr 10 '12 at 10:52
    
@Robusto I'd add yours as an answer. –  user14070 Apr 10 '12 at 12:52

4 Answers 4

Since Ms. A didn't actually say “She had given up on the justice system...", there's no justification for introducing past perfect into a "reported speech" rendition anyway.

But if Ms. A had used past perfect for that first verb, she could have used it for had committed suicide as well, if she'd wanted to. There would have been nothing inherently wrong with...

Ms. A said: “She had given up on the justice system and on the government. That's why she had committed suicide.”

...apart from the fact that we tend to avoid past perfect unless it's actually necessary (to indicate that something happened earlier than something else).

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No journalist would receive the Pulitizer Price converting the reported speech in either of the ways you have indicated; neither the first one nor the second one are correct conversion to reported speech because they are ambiguous. It is difficult to understand whether 'she' and 'Ms. A' are different people or not.

Consequently, answering your first question I would say "no, at all."

The second question is more consistent in its general meaning.

Generally, the past perfect form ('I had committed, You had committed, ...) expresses an action that took place before another past action.

I went to her house but she had left. (correct)

I had gone to her house but she had left. (wrong)

Therefore 'she had committed' is wrong just because 'she' cannot commit suicide before that 'She gave up on the justice system and on the government'.

So, the second one, although deprecating, is preferable.

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The tricky part about with your conversion to reported speech is that the antecedents of both instances of "she" are ambiguous. Splitting up the reported speech into two sentences accentuates the ambiguity.

Ms. A said that she had given up on the justice system and on the government. That's why she committed suicide.

It is no longer clear that Ms. A is talking about someone else. It's possible that Ms. A committed suicide, and you are reporting what she wrote on her suicide note. It's also possible that there are two people, and one committed suicide due to the other's loss of faith in justice and government, but that's less logical after some interpretation.

So, you have two problems to fix: one of clarifying the antecedent, as well as your original question about the sequence of events. You can address both problems by restructuring your sentence:

The victim committed suicide because she had given up on the justice system and the government, according to Ms. A.

Using the word "victim" makes it clear that Ms. A is not the one who committed suicide. Placing the "Ms. A" at the end of the sentence also helps to link the pronoun "she" with "victim" instead of with "Ms. A", although the placement at the end is optional. Finally, to address your original question, Ms. A is reporting a cause-and-effect relationship, so you can use "because" when paraphrasing her speech.

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"Ms. A said that she had given up on the just system and on the government. That's why she committed suicide."

Why? Because in reported speech the verb back-shifts, so the past simple 'gave' shifts to past perfect 'had given'. This is standard for reported speech.

The second sentence is the problem one. In this one, her suicide is exempted from the backshift 'rule' because the situation is still valid - she is still a suicide victim. Think of, for example, "Ethel is ugly", which can be reported as 'he said Ethel is ugly' because Ethel is (presumably) still ugly.

The same applies to reporting future situations for much the same reason ~ "what time does the last train leave?" is reported as 'he asked what time the last train leaves'. Not 'left' because the train hasn't gone and is hence still valid.

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