Reported Speech

Reported Speech or Indirect Speech

Reported speech is usually used to talk about the past, so we normally change the tense of the words spoken. We use reporting verbs like “say“, “tell“, “ask“, and we may use the word “that” to introduce the reported words. Reported speech doesn’t use quotation marks to enclose what the person said.

Examples –

Direct speech- “I speak English.”

Reported speech- “She says that she speaks English.”

When reporting questions, it is especially important to pay attention to sentence order. When reporting yes/ no questions connect the reported question using “if”. When reporting questions using question words (why, where, when, etc.) use the question word.

Direct speech- She asked, “Do you want to come with me to New York?”

Reported speech- She asked me if I wanted to come with her to New York.

Direct speech- Emma asked, “Where did you go last winter?”

Reported speech- Sophia asked me where I had gone the previous winter.

Different types of Sentences-

When you use reported speech, you either report:

  • Reporting Statements
  • Questions
  • Requests / Commands
  • Other Types

Reporting Statements- The changes in the tense of the reported speech depend upon the tense of the reporting verb in the direct speech. Thus when the reporting verb is in the past tense, the tense of the reported verb also changes to past tense.

We usually use the conjunction ‘that’ to report statements. The most common verbs used to report statements are ‘said’ and ‘told’.

Example –

  • The teacher said to me, ‘I have never seen a boy as lazy as you are.’

When we report this statement, we connect the two clauses using that.

  • The teacher told me that he had never seen a boy as lazy as I was.
  • ‘I am going to the market,’ said Emma.
  • Emma said that he was going to the market.
  • ‘I want to see it before I buy it,’ she will tell us.
  • She will tell us that she wants to see it before he buys it.

Questions- When transforming questions, check whether you have to change:

  • Pronouns
  • Present Tense Verbs (3rd person singular)
  • Place and time expressions
  • Tenses (backshift)

Also note that you have to:

  • Transform the question into an indirect question
  • Use the interrogative or if / whether

Pronouns- In reported speech, you often have to change the pronoun depending on who says what.

Example: He says, “My mother likes roast chicken.” – He says that his mother likes roast chicken.

Present Tense Verbs (3rd person singular)- If the sentence starts in the present; there is no backshift of tenses in reported speech. If the sentence starts in the past, there is often backshift of tenses in reported speech.

Example –

Direct speech- John: I can help you, Sophia.

Reported speech- John told Sophia he could help her.

Place and time Expressions- No changes are made to words referring to place, time or person if we report something at the same place, around the same time, or involving the same people.

Example –

Direct speech- Olivia: My train leaves at 6.30 A.M. tomorrow.

Reported speech- Olivia says her train leaves at 6.30 A.M. tomorrow.

No backshift- Do not change the tense if the introductory clause is in a present tense (e. g. He says). Note, however, that you might have to change the form of the present tense verb (3rd person singular).

Example: He says, “I write poems.” – He says that he writes English.

Backshift- You must change the tense if the introductory clause is in a past tense (e. g. He said).


Direct speech- Peter: “I work in the garden.”

Reported speech- Peter said that he worked in the garden.

Additional Information and Exceptions- 

Apart from the above mentioned basic rules, there are further aspects that you should keep in mind, for example:

  • Main clauses connected with and / but
  • Tense of the introductory clause
  • Reported speech for difficult tenses
  • Exceptions for backshift
  • Requests with must, should, ought to and let’s

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