What would be the indirect speech form of the following sentence?

John told Sean, "Let me help you"

(It's not a homework question, I'm preparing for my exam tomorrow. I just stumbled upon this question in a book.)


John told Sean to let him help him.

I realise that creates ambiguity as to who was going to help who, but the context would probably sort it out.

  • That is probably the most elegant rendering, but it is strictly speaking not reported speech. Or is it? Perhaps we should agree on a definition first. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Feb 20 '12 at 11:56
  • @Barrie: I agree, this is a strict rendering. Perhaps a different introductory verb would eliminate the ambiguity: John offered to help Sean (after all, the function of let me is offering to do something). – Irene Feb 20 '12 at 12:10
  • 1
    There's no ambiguity. If John actually wanted Sean to help him, he'd hardly tell Sean to let himself help John, would he? It's just clumsy because the second "him" is effectively redundant - discard it, and everything's fine. – FumbleFingers Feb 21 '12 at 16:48
  • That's very true. – Barrie England Feb 21 '12 at 17:04

How about:

John told Sean that he should let John help him.

It gets a bit complicated because there are two singular males, but otherwise it is fairly straightforward. Other ways of rendering the imperative in indirect speech could be chosen instead, like "must"; or the entire "let" construction could be done away with in a less literal version:

John told Sean that he would help him.

  • Doesn't the meaning change in the first sentence you suggest? John is supposed to do the helping, while Sean will let John help him, right? – Irene Feb 20 '12 at 12:21
  • @Irene: Oops! You're right, that was the opposite of the intended meaning. Corrected. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Feb 20 '12 at 13:08
  • Per my comment to Barrie's answer, I really think OP is just trying to steer people towards a clumsy contrived construction - it might occur in speech, but in writing anyone should have enough time to just drop the second "him". "John told Sean to let him help". Problem solved. – FumbleFingers Feb 21 '12 at 16:51
  • @FumbleFingers: Sure, agreed. It's not really reported speech, but it is better. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Feb 21 '12 at 17:44

The indirect speech of John told Sean "Let me help you" will be "John told Sean that he would help him."

Good luck for your exams .

  • 1
    Really? It seems to me to be saying something quite different, because you've dropped "let". If you asked me to give the "direct" version of "John told Sean that he would help him", I would have said "John told Sean 'I will help you'". And to answer the OP's question, it would have to be "John told Sean to let him help him", which is an absolutely terrible sentence, due to the potential confusion over which "him" refers to which character. – user16269 Feb 20 '12 at 11:55
  • @David Wallace: It's a bit disingenuous of OP to mix "told" and "let" in the first place. Accept "told", and you should get ""John told Sean he would help"". But accept "let", and you should get "John asked Sean to let him help". – FumbleFingers Feb 21 '12 at 16:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.