Indirect speech: Can you express that you don't believe the original speaker of a sentence (with the help of a tense or a verb form)?

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    You can repeat the speaker's statement in a questioning tone of voice. – Weather Vane Jun 12 '19 at 13:11
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    Could you give an example of what you mean? Otherwise, there are so many ways that the answers will be broad and not all that useful for choosing what will work best. – TaliesinMerlin Jun 12 '19 at 13:23
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    What do you mean by “a grammatical form”? How do you think a grammatical form might do that? – Tuffy Jun 12 '19 at 13:55
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    Scare quotes are used to denote that the contained statement / word/s are dubious (in the commenter's opinion), but that would confuse the issue with a quote or report structure. A comment clause / pragmatic marker showing modality: contents dubious or false (He claimed that ... // He mendaciously claimed that ... // ....) would normally be used. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 12 '19 at 14:29
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    @Zan700 The famous story of a message for Stalin from Trotsky, which Stalin read out to the crowd on 1st May. I use capitals and punctuation for intonation. in the second version. So Stalin : “You were right and I was wrong. i should APOLOGISE.”. A little man comes forward and asks to read it again. “OK” says Stalin. the man reads. “YOU were right and I was WRONG? I should apologise? Very funny. The same sentence as written read in a way that makes the same words mean opposite things. But he is ignoring the full stops and word order. Or is he? – Tuffy Jun 13 '19 at 8:03

When reporting a speaker's words about the present or the future, we can choose to backshift into the past or to keep the original speaker's tenses. For example:

  • I told my boss I will/would be late to work tomorrow.

  • He asked me how old I was/am.

But as Swan in Practical English Usage (p277) notes:

We are more likely to change the original speaker's tenses if we do not agree with what he/she said, if we are not certain of its truth, of if we want to make it clear that the information comes from the original speaker, not from ourselves.

Two of Swan's examples are:

  • She just said she was fourteen! I don't believe her for a moment.

  • He announced that the profits were higher than forecast.

However, this neither implies that using the original speaker's tenses means you believe what they say, nor that backshifting the tenses means that you don't. Generally, the context should make it clear where you stand.

  • you should mention that so-called backshifting is by some considered obligatory anyway, and so will give no clue about belief when such people or speaking – Toothrot Jun 12 '19 at 20:31
  • @Toothrot. It's true that backshift is the default, especially in written indirect speech, and gives no indication in itself as to the reporter's belief in the truth of what was said. It is possible that some teachers may simplify the issue for their low proficiency learners by saying that backshift is obligatory. But all of the pedagogic grammars that I have allow for the possibility of not backshifting in certain contexts. – Shoe Jun 13 '19 at 7:43

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