I read と言っていた and と言っていました would be the most common and neutral way to report speech. While と言っている and と言っています also sound okay, they carry a notion of the quoted speaker is still thinking this way. 

Reading some NHK easy news article however I noticed that と言っています like in

厚生労働者は「全体では新しい社員の給料は上がり続けています」と言っています。

or

しかし世界中の研究者は、赤ちゃんの遺伝の情報を変えたことが本当だったら問題があると言っています。

seems to be the most common expression, followed by と言いました :

「このパイロットが飛行機に乗るすぐ前まで、酒を飲み続けていたのは間違いありません。日本に着くまでの12時間に、大きな事故が起こったかもしれません」と言いました。

会社は、来年3月に1種類のウイスキーを売るのをやめると言いました。

と言っていました I actually read quite seldom. One of the few examples (other forms like と話していました included) I could find in the last articles was:

利用した人は「安心して乗ることができましたが、もう少しはっきりわかる色にしてほしいです」と言っていました。(about the design of escaltors which shall prevent people from climbing the stairs)

(The normal articles of NHK seem to me to prefer the usage of と述べました,i.e. と言いました.)

I don't think と言っていますis here supposed to carry the notion mentioned above. Is this form more common because it is considered easier japanese? But in terms of difficulty it doesn't seem to make much difference which of these three forms is used, does it? Do special rules apply to newspapers somehow? I am quite confused now. (≧д≦ヾ)

  • Where did you read that と言っていました was the most common, just out of curiosity? – user31974 Dec 3 at 20:56
  • @CSPP It may have been my onesided interpretation but for example this answer I understood the way that  と言っていました would be the most natural hence common way to quote (japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/13967/…) – Risa Dec 3 at 21:11
  • I edited my answer, it is more accurate @Risa – user31974 Dec 3 at 21:24
up vote 0 down vote accepted

厚生労働者は「全体では新しい社員の給料は上がり続けています」と言っています -> Workers say that in general, the wage of all the new members continue to increase

しかし世界中の研究者は、赤ちゃんの遺伝の情報を変えたことが本当だったら問題があると言っています。 -> However, researchers from all over the world say that it would be problematic if they really changed the babies' genetic

「このパイロットが飛行機に乗るすぐ前まで、酒を飲み続けていたのは間違いありません。日本に着くまでの12時間に、大きな事故が起こったかもしれません」と言いました。 : They said "until before this before gets onto the plane, it was sure that he had been drinking. A big accident may have occured during the 12 hours until they arrive in Japan"

会社は、来年3月に1種類のウイスキーを売るのをやめると言いました。 : The company said that they would stop selling 1 type of whiskey in march next year

利用した人は「安心して乗ることができましたが、もう少しはっきりわかる色にしてほしいです」と言っていました。 : The users said that they could get on without worrying, but they wanted them to make it in a color a bit more recognizable.

It is wrong to say that when quoting someone (so at the third person) it is always the most natural to use 言っていた. The thing is, in this case, 言っていた is used when we want to directly quote someone, whereas 言った is used when we want to "indirectly quote".

So while 言っていた is more about retelling something, 言った is more about the action of saying. Which is why it's often said that ていた is the only correct grammatically when quoting.

But if we look at a sentence like:

「どうせ君も俺の金目当てなんだろ!」と彼が言ったので

From https://detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q1280477987

We can see it's not true at all because it's a quotation, yet it still uses the 言った form. And it's not the only example we can find.

Now for the difference between the past and present tense, it's the same as in English:

South Korea says there were [...] labour, 5,000 of whom are alive. The Japan Times said: “The term ‘fo[...] were re...

It's just a matter of tense.

So to sum it up and make it easier to understand, you can interpret the three forms as below:

と言っています : are saying / have said (say)

と言っていました : were saying / had said (said)

と言いました : said / have said

Of course, you would probably not translate them like this, but thinking of と言っていました as "were saying" is a good way to help yourself understanding that it's a direct quotation. As literally, 言って/いました means "was in the state of having said". So if for example you used 言っていました to say "my sister said this", it would add a nuance that would make others think that you witnessed (heard, saw or anything) your sister completing the action of saying (言って) and being (居る).

  • I see. Thanks a lot so far. One last question: With quoting indirectly you mean hearsay? Being reported something from a source which is not the original speaker and repeat it, right? Not rephrasing the original statement versus the direct option of quoting it word for word? – Risa Dec 3 at 21:44
  • I edited my answer, I think it answers your question @Risa – user31974 Dec 3 at 22:21
  • 2
    Sorry but I find this answer convoluted and somewhat contradictory. Your central point seems to be that 言っていた is better for directly quoting, but you include a sentence with a direct quote followed by 言った. Doesn't that invalidate your point? I've read this several times but I'm afraid it doesn't clarify the difference between the terms. I didn't downvote it but I feel it needs some editing. – kandyman Dec 4 at 14:08
  • I don't really see how else I can put it into words... By direct quotation, I mean focusing the sentence on the fact that you re-tell it, whereas the other ("despite" being a quotation too), is the "simple past tense" for the action of saying. But if you have a better way of structuring it, feel free to edit – user31974 Dec 4 at 14:51

I am still a japanese intermediate learner myself but I think, well not I, according to this page https://ameblo.jp/stravaganza-no2/entry-11975095608.html I think you can sum up the difference between a)と言いました and b)と言っていました as a) is focusing on the speech act or the person who said something while b) is focusing on the content (which may be the most usual case and therefore appears to be the most common)

So using the example from the webpage >> スーさんは明日試験があると言いました<< becomes something like >>It was Susan who said that we will have a test tommorrow.<< while >>スーさんは明日試験があると言っていました<< will become something like >>Guess what! Susan said we will be having a test tomorrow!<< The first sentence may be imbedded in a conversation like Susan says everyday we will write a test tommorrow so don't panic, the second may be from a conversation like Oh no, what to do? I don't get this subject at all! But if I fail the test, I will have to repeat the year!

Edit: I forgot to add, it seems like, if the content of an utterance is important or somehow relevant to a current conversation, you can use the present progressive form which might be why you read rather と言っています than と言っていました in news article. But this kind of usage isn't really explained in the link I gave you so you better check the reason for it further.

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