In Genki 2nd edition chapter 11, the following translation is given:


Mary said she wanted to go to Tibet

I would have thought that the translation should be that she wants to go to Tibet. To say that she wanted to go to Tibet, I would think that the sentence would be the following:


Is this sentence not grammatical? What's the difference between the two? How does one say that "she said wants to go", rather than "she said she wanted to go"?


2 Answers 2


I'd say this is a case of ambiguity on the English side. Consider, you and I both talked to Mary yesterday. You tell me, "Mary wants to go to Bali". I might respond, "Oh, that's interesting, she told me she wanted to go to Tibet."

In English, because we have two ways of reporting what someone says (direct and indirect speech) there's ambiguity that enters in the tenses. (Japanese doesn't have this distinction.) For English, depending on the context, both "she said she wants to go" and "she said she wanted to go" could both mean the same thing. (as in the scenario above). Nevertheless, without context, the second one sounds like she may have changed her mind.

But in Japanese, if you wrote/said


then this sounds like, "Mary said she had wanted to go to Tibet." But she's now subsequently changed her mind.

So, in Japanese, if you want to say "Mary said she wants to go to Japan", then you would say


Moral of the story, tense matters get very confused between English and Japanese.


The quotation is what she literally said at the time of utterance (more or less).

In English when quoting "without quotes" you shift the tense one step into the past i.e. you say "She said she wanted to go.", but what she really said was "I want to go." in Japanese you don't do this tense shift, it's (with regards to tense) what she said word for word.

So in the first example she wanted to go at the time she said it,

and in the second example she wanted to go sometime before she said it (And presumably doesn't want to go anymore.)

The only difference that I know of between Japanese indirect quotation (without quotes) and Japanese direct quotation (with quotes) is that you can drop the polite form in indirect quotation((”行きたいと言った。” vs “ ”行きたいです”と言った”))

Oh, and you can also switch pronouns around (i.e. if she said something to you you can change her "あなた"(or other pronoun) to a "私"(or other pronoun).

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