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Please consider the following sentences:

Jane Smith has said her son cries when she comes back home.

Jane Smith said her son cries when she comes back home.

Dave Bloggs has told me what we can expect of the show.

Dave Bloggs told me what we can expect of the show.

Now I'm aware of backshift and that you don't have to do so if what has been said is still relevant or refers to a future event.

So does it matter if I use has said/said in each case? Is it just a matter of me deciding whether I want to distance the reader in each case, or is there a more concrete rule? Basically, is using has said/said an option and it's up to the writer which one they want to use?

Would be great if someone could clarify this.

Thanks

  • You just use the past simple for the reported verbs said & told. The present perfect structure is not required. – Alejandro Nov 30 '15 at 18:48
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    @Ale I can't agree with you. Jane Smith has said her son cries when he comes home is different in meaning to Jane Smith said her son cries when she comes back home. But for an understanding of how the present perfect is used, and how it differs from the simple past is best addressed on our sister site English Language Learners. – WS2 Nov 30 '15 at 22:33
  • I hadn't ever seen it using the present perfect tense to report a speech. – Alejandro Nov 30 '15 at 22:40
  • "has said" implies that it may no longer be the case, eg "Tom has said his head was hurting but it's ok at the moment". – Max Williams Jun 28 '16 at 8:39
  • @Max Williams. That's not necessarily the case, and certainly not here. The past simple in both of OP's examples is the unmarked, bare facts version. With the present perfect, the connotation I'm picking up on is of the reinforcing of the fact of an ongoing situation (the opposite of distancing), though the first 'has said' example may be to emphasise a point. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 28 '16 at 8:51
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A lot depends on the specific context, but, roughly speaking, "has said" implies at some unspecified time in the past, while "said" refers to a specific occurrence. For instance:

I ran into Steve yesterday and he said that he just got back from vacation at Big Sur. But the odd thing is that, in earlier conversations, Steve has said that he hates the ocean and hates California.

(A little contrived, but it should give you the basic idea.)

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(I'm probably thinking in the context of journalism here.) I don't know of any concrete rule. To me, "has said", with its implied connection to the present and/or future (as you mentioned), suggests that Jane Smith could say again (especially "on the record") that her son cries. Or it might even suggest that her statement could change in the future. Consider the following:

  • Jane Smith said her son cries when she comes back home. The son, named John[...] [The next sentence doesn't have a strong connection.]

  • Jane Smith has said her son cries when she comes back home, so we expect that it will happen again tomorrow.

  • Jane Smith has said her son cries when she comes back home, but it remains to be seen whether this will happen again tomorrow.

Perhaps it comes down to how much prediction you're trying to do, or perhaps I'm trying too hard to make a distinction.

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    It is not so much to do with prediction. It is more a question of whether you are reporting Jane Smith's communication as a specific instance of her having said what she said. Then you would use the simple past. However if you just want to make the general point that sometime in the recent past Jane Smith happens to have mentioned that her son cries, then one would use the perfect. It is a very fine nuance, but an understanding of when to use one and when the other would pick out a native speaker from someone who did not have an absolute grasp of English. – WS2 Dec 1 '15 at 17:20
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Jane Smith has said her son cries when she comes back home.

Jane Smith said her son cries when she comes back home.

Both can be used here. They are equal enough that you can pick whichever you prefer.


But there are minute distinctions between these two sentences, based on what you're trying to convey.

An easier example can be shown with stressing the a specific word in the sentence.

I did not to that.

I did something, but not the thing we're talking about now.

I did not do that.

It was done by someone, but not me.

I did not do that.

This carries the implication that you didn't do it, and that you specifically choose to not do it (i.e. you actively decided to not do it).


A similar distinction can be made in your example:

Jane Smith has said her son cries when she comes back home.

We are focusing on the fact that she said [it]. This is more common in cases where we are discussing what Jane has and has not said. The focus is on making the statement, rather than the statement itself.

Jane Smith said her son cries when she comes back home.

We are focusing on what Jane said, not the fact that she said it. This is more common when the statement (that her son cries when she comes back home) is new information; and our current focus is on this new information, rather than who said it.

But I want to repeat here that the difference is very minute; and you can still use "has said" and "said" interchangeably.

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    They are not "equal;" they are different in the way every instance of the present perfect is different from the simple past. – Casey Dec 21 '17 at 20:51
  • @Casey There is little to no difference in meaning in the particular case of "to say". While there is still a grammatical difference between the two (e.g. only being able to use one of them in a particular construction), there is no difference in meaning for the options listed by OP. A statement, when made, is inherently final (= perfect). Using the past tense instead of the present perfect doesn't change the implied finality of having made a statement. – Flater Dec 22 '17 at 0:07
  • The aspect is different and it changes what your sentence expresses to use one or the other. – Casey Dec 22 '17 at 0:41

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