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Could you please to help me with translating it to indirect speach:

"Was there a chair there at the last lesson?"

This exercise is from "Get your tenses right" by Ronald Barnes, and I have doubts about second "there", what is it, a subject? I think the solution is

"Somebody asked if a chair there was there at the last lesson",

isn't it?

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+1 Good question. Stated well, too. Your guess isn't right, though -- no need for the first there -- and rearrange the sentence. –  Kris Oct 7 '12 at 7:46
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2 Answers 2

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The direct speech in your example is a question which asks if there was a chair there at some time in the past. When you report it, you place the question further back in time, so that it becomes Somebody asked if there had been a chair there at the last lesson.

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Though absolutely in order, this may be a bit overstretched. Is it really necessary to 'place the question further back in time'? We usually do not, I guess. In actual usage, was serves well enough, without a need for 'had been'. –  Kris Oct 7 '12 at 7:45
    
@Kris: Possibly, but in replying to those I take to be non-native speakers I think it's as well to give the form least likely to provoke adverse comment. –  Barrie England Oct 7 '12 at 8:11
    
I agree, entirely. –  Kris Oct 7 '12 at 8:12
    
@Kris: We prove here again & again that almost nothing is really necessary when speaking English (except getting basic grammar & key vocabulary right) & only a little more is really necessary when writing formal expository prose (Do what the style manual demands). Beyond that, just like free-range chickens, native speakers of English go where they want, say what they want, & write what they want without regard for any rules but those they learned at their mother's knee when acquiring their native language. What was good enow for mama is good enow for me. This is knee English. –  user21497 Oct 7 '12 at 8:42
    
@BillFranke True. However, non-knee English is no more than formalized knee-English set down for the sake of uniformity so people understand each other across diversities. :) Just my 2c. –  Kris Oct 7 '12 at 14:11
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The correct answer is this.

Somebody asked if there was a chair there at the last lesson.

The positive version of this sentence is "There was a chair there at the last lesson" - which you get by undoing the inversion in the original question. Once you have this, you just need to add the "Somebody asked if" to the beginning.

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-1 Barrie England's answer is grammatically correct. This one is merely what native speakers who don't understand how to use English tense say & write. BrE speakers are more likely to get this right than AmE speakers, who generally don't understand the perfect aspects. More evidence that, regardless of what linguists & others say about the grammar rules of English, the phrase English grammar rules is oxymoronic & self-contradictory. Anyone who claims that there are real grammar rules outside the covers of style manuals & grammar handbooks is talking about basic grammar, not this kind. –  user21497 Oct 7 '12 at 7:51
    
Actually, this version means at the last lesson, somebody asked whether there was a chair there or not, which is not the same as OPs first example –  TimLymington Oct 7 '12 at 13:29
    
@TimLymington Guess you are right. I had questions as to whether the implications of OP's sentence and Barrie's solution agree. –  Kris Oct 7 '12 at 14:14
    
@TimLymington: You are suggesting that the OP posed two different questions. You're right, but the OP doesn't think so, I believe. By moving the phrase at the last lesson to the end of the sentence, where it is a complement to chair instead of to somebody, the meaning changes. I missed that until you mentioned it. Maybe Barrie saw it and simply translated it into what the OP thought he'd said. I'd say now that Somebody at the last lesson asked whether [I don't like if here] there had been a chair there. is the correct indirect question. –  user21497 Oct 7 '12 at 16:42
    
@TimLymington I disagree. The closest verb to the adverb phrase at the last lesson, to which that adverb phrase could reasonably be applied is was (referring to the chair being there), not asked. Therefore, in the absence of other indications, that is the verb that the adverb phrase qualifies. Barrie's answer is technically better than mine, in terms of had been versus was; as Kris pointed out though, native speakers would say was too - but of course, that's a completely separate issue. –  user16269 Oct 7 '12 at 18:16
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