Reported Speech

Direct Speech and
Reported Speech (Indirect Speech)


Reported speech table of contents:

  1. Overview and definitions

  2. Reporting verbs

  3. Using the word THAT

  4. Reported speech – changes

  5. Pronouns

  6. Third person singular verbs

  7. Place and time expressions

  8. Tense backshift

  9. No tense backshift

  10. Reporting questions

  11. Reporting orders and requests



Overview and definitions

Direct speech means to say exactly what someone else said. It is usually put inside quotation marks (". . ."). 

I have the package. Direct Speech


He says, "I have the package." Direct Speech

Reported speech (also called indirect speech) means to say what someone else said, without actually quoting them. Meaning, you don't necessarily use their own words.

You don't use quotation marks with reported speech.

I have the package. Reported Speech (Indirect Speech)


He says he has the package. Reported Speech (Indirect Speech)

Reporting verbs

To report what someone said we usually use verbs such as:

Say, tell, ask, explain, request, etc.


For example:

  • She says we should go.

  • They told us to bring our stuff.

  • He asked them the time.

  • explained the rules to her.

The word THAT

The word THAT can be used after reporting verbs to begin the statement. But remember – it is optional.

You can use it or leave it out, as you prefer.


For example:

  • She says they are full = She says that they are full

  • I told them we could help = I told them that we could help

  • I suggest we start = I suggest that we start

How to report

When you quote what someone else has said (direct speech) it's very simple: nothing changes and you put the statement between quotation marks.

But when you report a statement (tell it in your own words), there are obviously some necessary changes.

Reported speech – changes

Pronouns

If there are any pronouns present, you may have to change them.

Examples for when and how to change pronouns:

Direct speech Reported speech
She says, "I like ice cream." She says she likes ice cream.
They say, "You are right." They say we are right.
He says, "My name is Gary." He says his name is Gary.

Third person singular verbs

Verbs in the third person singular form usually get an S at the end:

I cook => He cooks

We talk => She talks

You have => It has

I am => He is

So when reporting speech we must apply this rule.


Examples for when and how to change verbs:

Direct speech Reported speech
He says, "I work every day." He says he works every day.
She says, "I am a big girl." She says she is a big girl.
Bonnie says, "I have a question." Bonnie says she has a question.

Place and time expressions

In many cases, when you report someone's speech you are in a different place, and almost always in different point of time (we usually report in the present what someone told us before, in the past).

So we need to change the place and time expressions accordingly.


Examples for when and how to change place and time expressions:

Direct speech Reported speech
She said, "I work here." She said she worked there.
They said, "We are eating now." They said they were eating then.
You said, "She sings today." You said she sang that day.
He said, "I will come tomorrow." He said he would come the
following day
.

A list of common place and time expressions

this that
these those
here there
now then / at the time
today that day / yesterday
yesterday the day before / the previous day
a week ago / last week a week before / the previous week
last month the month before / the previous month
next year the following year
in three years three years from then

Note:
With these things, always use your common sense. If you are reporting something that someone said ten minutes ago, and your location is still the same, and the time frame is still the same, then don't change these place and time expressions.

For example:

Direct speech Reported speech
Ten minutes ago you said,
"We have a lot of work today."
Ten minutes ago you said
we had a lot of work today.


Tense backshift

Backshift is the changing of a tense when reporting what someone said.

When reporting what somebody said in the past, the tenses of the verbs in the reported statement go one step backwards.

I am sorry. Tense backshift


He said he was sorry. Tense backshift


Here are some more examples:

Direct speech Reported speech
You said, "We are late." You said we were late.
They said, "We have plans." They said they had plans.
He said, "I work hard." He said he worked hard.
She said, "I drink water." She said she drank water.


Here is how the tense backshift works:

Direct speech Reported speech

Simple present

Simple past
He said, "I eat cheese."
He said he ate cheese.

Present progressive

Past progressive
He said, "I am eating cheese."
He said he was eating cheese.

Present perfect

Past perfect
He said, "I have eaten cheese."
He said he had eaten cheese.

Present perfect progressive

Past perfect progressive
He said, "I have been
eating
cheese."
He said he had been
eating
cheese.

Simple past

Past perfect
He said, "I ate cheese."
He said he had eaten cheese.

Past progressive

Past perfect progressive
He said, "I was eating cheese."
He said he had been eating cheese.

Past perfect

Past perfect
(no change)
He said, "I had eaten cheese."
He said he had eaten cheese.

Past perfect progressive

Past perfect progressive
(no change)
He said, "I had been
eating
cheese."
He said he had been
eating
cheese.


The backshift also works on certain modal verbs:

Direct speech Reported speech
Will Would
She said, "I will eat cheese."
She said she would eat cheese.

Can

Could
She said, "I can eat cheese."
She said she could eat cheese.

Must

Had to
She said, "I must eat cheese."
She said she had to eat cheese.

Shall

Would
She said, "I shall eat cheese."
She said she would eat cheese.

May

Might
She said, "I may eat cheese." She said she might eat cheese.


There is NO CHANGE in the following modal verbs:


Direct speech Reported speech

Would
She said, "I would eat cheese."
She said she would eat cheese.

Could
She said, "I could eat cheese."
She said she could eat cheese.

Should
She said, "I should eat cheese."
She said she should eat cheese.

Might
She said, "I might eat cheese." She said she might eat cheese.

Ought to
She said, "I ought to eat cheese." She said she ought to eat cheese.

No tense backshift

When the reporting verb is in the simple past tense, the verbs in the reported statement usually go one step backwards.

However, if you are reporting facts or something that is still true, you can keep the verbs in the present:

Direct speech Reported speech
You said, "The Earth is round." You said the Earth is round.
OR
You said the Earth was round.
I said, "Rome is in Italy." I said Rome is in Italy.
OR
I said Rome was in Italy.
She said, "People sleep at night." She said people sleep at night.
OR
She said people slept at night.


Also, if the reporting verb is in the simple present, present perfect, or future, then there is no tense backshift:

Direct speech Reported speech
You say, "I jog daily." You say you jog daily.
You have said, "I jog daily." You have said you jog daily.
You will say, "I jog daily." You will say you jog daily.


Reporting questions

When reporting a question, you should also change the question into an indirect question. In other words, you need to change this sentence so that it is a normal positive sentence, not a question.

You can use the words if or whether for YES / NO questions.

Direct speech Reported speech
She asked, "Are you well?" She asked if I was well.
"Where do you live?" he asked me. He asked me where I lived.
"Why don't we meet?" she asked me. She asked me why we didn't meet.
I asked, "How does she make them?" I asked how she made them.
They asked, "Where is the mall?" They asked where the mall is.

Reporting orders and requests

When reporting an order or request we change them into an infinitive.

Direct speech Reported speech
"Go home," she told me. She told me to go home.
"Start talking," he told us. He told us to start talking.
"Stop right there,"
they ordered us.
They ordered us
to stop
right there.
"Could you please open the door?"
she asked me.
She asked me to open the door.
"Don't shout," I asked. I asked them not to shout.

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