There are times when someone tells you something and you’ll have to report what they said to someone else.
How can you do this in English?
You’ll need to know how to use what's called reported speech in English and this is what you’ll learn in this blog post.
What Is Reported Speech In English?
Reported speech, also known as indirect speech, is a way of retelling what someone else has said without repeating their exact words.
For example, let’s say you have a friend called Jon and one called Mary. Mary has organised a house party and has invited you and Jon.
Jon, however, is not feeling well. He says to you, “Sorry but I cannot come to the party. I spent all day working outside under the rain and I feel ill today.”
A few days after the party, you meet Sarah. She’s another one of your friends and she was at the party too, but she arrived late – a moment before you left. You only had time to say hello to each other.
She asks you, “I saw you at the party but I didn’t see Jon. Where was he?”
When Sarah asks you, “Where was Jon?” you can say,
“Jon said, ‘Sorry but I cannot come to the party. I spent all day working outside under the rain and I feel ill today’.”
However, it would be more natural to use indirect speech in this case. So you would say, “Jon said he couldn’t come to the party. He had spent all day working outside under the rain and he felt ill that day.”
Did you notice how the sentence changes in reported speech?
Here’s what happened:
- “I” became “he”
- “Cannot” became “couldn’t”
- “Spent” became “had spent”
- “I feel ill today” became “he felt ill on that day”
Let’s take a closer look at how we form reported speech.
How To Form Reported Speech In English
To form reported speech, you might have to make a few changes to the original sentence that was spoken (or written).
You may have to change pronouns, verb tenses, place and time expressions and, in the case of questions, the word order.
There are certain patterns to learn for reporting promises, agreements, orders, offers, requests, advice and suggestions.
Let’s have a look at all these cases one by one.
Reported Speech In English: Changing Verb Tenses
In general, when we use reported speech, the present tenses become past tenses.
We do this because we are often reporting someone else’s words at a different time (Jon’s words were spoken 3 days before you reported them to Sarah).
Here’s an example:
Jenny (on Saturday evening) says, “I don't like this place. I want to go home now.”(present tenses)
Matt (on Sunday morning) talks to James and says, “Jenny said that she didn't like the place, and she wanted to go home. (past tenses)
So this is how different verb tenses change:
Simple Present → Simple Past
DIRECT: I need money.
INDIRECT: She said she needed money.
Present Progressive → Past Progressive
DIRECT: My French is improving.
INDIRECT: He said his French was improving.
Present Perfect → Past Perfect
DIRECT: This has been an amazing holiday.
INDIRECT: She told me that it had been an amazing holiday.
What if there is a past simple form of the verb in direct speech? Well, in this case, it can stay the same in reported speech or you can change it to past perfect.
Past Simple → Past Simple Or Past Perfect
DIRECT: I didn’t go to work.
INDIRECT: Mary said that she didn’t go to work / Mary said that she hadn’t gone to work
Past Perfect Tenses Do Not Change
DIRECT: I arrived late because I had missed the bus.
INDIRECT: He said he arrived (or had arrived) late because he had missed the bus.
Modal verbs like “can,” “may,” and “will” also change in reported speech.
Will → Would
DIRECT: The exam will be difficult.
INDIRECT: They said that the exam would be difficult.
Can → Could
DIRECT: I can’t be there.
INDIRECT: He told me he couldn’t be there.
May → Might
DIRECT: We may go there another time.
INDIRECT: They said they might go there another time.
However, past modal verbs don’t change (would, must, could, should, etc.) don’t change in reported speech.
DIRECT: It would be nice if we could go to Paris.
INDIRECT: He said it would be nice if we could go to Paris.
Here are some other examples:
|Direct speech||Reported speech|
|“I am going to the store,” said John.||John said that he was going to the store.|
|“I love pizza,” said Jane.||Jane said that she loved pizza.|
|“I will finish the project today,” said Mary.||Mary said that she would finish the project that day.|
|“I can't come to the party,” said Tom.||Tom said that he couldn't come to the party.|
|“I have a headache,” said Sarah.||Sarah said that she had a headache.|
|“I saw a movie last night,” said Peter.||Peter said that he had seen a movie the previous night.|
|“I want to learn Spanish,” said Emily.||Emily said that she wanted to learn Spanish.|
|“I have been working on this project for a week,” said Sam.||Sam said that he had been working on the project for a week.|
|“I don't like this food,” said Mark.||Mark said that he didn't like that food.|
|“I am not feeling well,” said Alice.||Alice said that she was not feeling well.|
So, in summary,
- am/is → were
- are → were
- do/does → did
- have/has → had
- had done → had done
- will → would
- can → could
- may → might
- could → could
- would → would
- like/love/buy/see → liked/loved/bought/saw or had liked/ had loved/had bought/had seen.
You make these verb tense shifts when you report the original words at a different time from when they were spoken. However, it is often also possible to keep the original speaker’s tenses when the situation is still the same.
1. DIRECT: I am feeling sick.
INDIRECT: She said she is feeling sick.
2. DIRECT: We have to leave now.
INDIRECT: They said they have to leave now.
3. DIRECT: I will call you later.
INDIRECT: He said he will call me later.
4. DIRECT: She is not coming to the party.
INDIRECT: He said she is not coming to the party.
5. DIRECT: They are working on a new project.
INDIRECT: She said they are working on a new project.
What about conditional sentences? How do they change in reported speech?
Sentences with “if” and “would” are usually unchanged.
DIRECT: It would be best if we went there early.
INDIRECT: He said it would be best if they went there early.
But conditional sentences used to describe unreal situations (e.g. second conditional or third conditional sentences) can change like this:
DIRECT: If I had more money I would buy a new car.
INDIRECT: She said if she had had more money, she would have bought a new car OR She said if she had more money, she would buy a new car.
Reported Speech In English: Changing Pronouns
In reported speech, because you’re reporting someone else’s words, there’s a change of speaker so this may mean a change of pronoun.
Jenny says, “I don't like this place. I want to go home now.”
Matt says, “Jenny said that she didn't like the place, and she wanted to go home.”
In this example, Jenny says “I” to refer to herself but Matt, talking about what Jenny said, uses “she”.
So the sentence in reported speech becomes:
- Jenny said that she didn’t like . . . ( not Jenny said that I didn’t like . . .)
Some other examples:
1 . DIRECT: I have been studying for hours.
INDIRECT: He said he had been studying for hours.
2. DIRECT: I don’t like that movie.
INDIRECT: She said she didn’t like that movie.
3. DIRECT: He doesn't like coffee.
INDIRECT: She said he doesn't like coffee.
4. DIRECT: We have a new car.
INDIRECT: They told me they had a new car.
5. DIRECT: We are going on vacation next week.
INDIRECT: They said they are going on vacation next week.
Reported Speech In English: Place And Time Expressions
When you’re reporting someone’s words, there is often a change of place and time. This may mean that you will need to change or remove words that are used to refer to places and time like “here,” “this,” “now,” “today,” “next,” “last,” “yesterday,” “tomorrow,” and so on.
Check the differences in the following sentences:
DIRECT: I'll be back next month.
INDIRECT: She said she would be back the next month, but I never saw her again.
DIRECT: Emma got her degree last Tuesday.
INDIRECT: He said Emma had got her degree the Tuesday before.
DIRECT: I had an argument with my mother-in-law yesterday.
INDIRECT: He said he’d had an argument with his mother-in-law the day before.
DIRECT: We're going to have an amazing party tomorrow.
INDIRECT: They said they were going to have an amazing party the next day.
DIRECT: Meet me here at 10 am.
INDIRECT: He told me to meet him there at 10 am.
DIRECT: This restaurant is really good.
INDIRECT: She said that the restaurant was really good.
DIRECT: I'm going to the gym now.
INDIRECT: He said he was going to the gym at that time.
DIRECT: Today is my birthday.
INDIRECT: She told me that it was her birthday that day.
DIRECT: I'm leaving for Europe next week.
INDIRECT: She said she was leaving for Europe the following week.
Reported Speech In English: Word Order In Questions
What if you have to report a question? For example, how would you report the following questions?
- Where’s Mark?
- When are you going to visit your grandmother?
- What do I need to buy for the celebration?
- Where are your best friend and his wife staying?
- Do you like coffee?
- Can you sing?
- Who’s your best friend?
- What time do you usually wake up?
- What would you do if you won the lottery?
- Do you ever read nonfiction books?
In reported questions, the subject normally comes before the verb and auxiliary “do” is not used.
So, here is what happens when you're reporting a question:
DIRECT: Where’s Mark?
INDIRECT: I asked where Mark was.
DIRECT: When are you going to visit your grandmother?
INDIRECT: He wanted to know when I was going to visit my grandmother.
DIRECT: What do I need to buy for the celebration?
INDIRECT: She asked what she needed to buy for the celebration.
DIRECT: Where are your best friend and his wife staying?
INDIRECT: I asked where his best friend and his wife were staying.
DIRECT: Do you like coffee?
INDIRECT: I asked if she liked coffee.
DIRECT: Can you sing?
INDIRECT: She asked me if I could sing.
DIRECT: Who’s your best friend?
INDIRECT: They asked me who my best friend was.
DIRECT: What time do you usually wake up?
INDIRECT: She asked me what time I usually wake up.
DIRECT: What would you do if you won the lottery?
INDIRECT: He asked me what I would do if I won the lottery.
DIRECT: Do you ever read nonfiction books?
INDIRECT: She asked me if I ever read nonfiction books.
You might have noticed that question marks are not used in reported questions and you don’t use “say” or “tell” either.
Promises, Agreements, Orders, Offers, Requests & Advice
When you’re reporting these, you can use the following verbs + an infinitive:
Here are some examples:
DIRECT SPEECH: I’ll always love you.
PROMISE IN INDIRECT SPEECH: She promised to love me.
DIRECT SPEECH: OK, let’s go to the pub.
INDIRECT SPEECH: He agreed to come to the pub with me.
DIRECT SPEECH: Sit down!
INDIRECT SPEECH: They told me to sit down OR they ordered me to sit down.
DIRECT SPEECH: I can go to the post office for you.
INDIRECT SPEECH: She offered to go to the post office.
DIRECT SPEECH: Could I please have the documentation by tomorrow evening?
INDIRECT SPEECH: She requested to have the documentation by the following evening.
DIRECT SPEECH: You should think twice before giving him your phone number.
INDIRECT SPEECH: She advised me to think twice before giving him my phone number.
Reported Speech In English
All right! I hope you have a much clearer idea about what reported speech is and how it’s used.
And the good news is that both direct and indirect speech structures are commonly used in stories, so why not try the StoryLearning method?
You'll notice this grammatical pattern repeatedly in the context of short stories in English.
Not only will this help you acquire it naturally, but you will also have a fun learning experience by immersing yourself in an interesting and inspiring narrative.
Have a wonderful time learning through books in English!