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Reported speech

Direct speech vs reported speech (= indirect speech)

  • Direct speech

Direct speech refers to the exact words said by a person. To show the direct speech we put the words said inside quotation marks.

I am making good progress in learning English,” Hashem said.

the verb ‘said’ in the example above is called ‘the reporting verb’.

  • Reported speech

Reported speech or indirect speech is the exact meaning of what someone said but not the exact words.

Hashem said (that) he was making good progress in learning English.

Notice in the reported sentence above that quotations marks are not used. In addition, the word that can be omitted in everyday speech, especially after the verb said. We can say:

Hashem said he was making progress in learning English.

  • The most common reporting verbs

The verbs say, tell and ask the most commonly used verbs in both direct and reported speech.The verbs say and tell are used to report statements, whereas ask is used to report questions and commands.

The reporting verb ‘say’ can be used with or without a personal object.

  1. “I want to learn foreign languages,” she said.
  2. “I want to learn foreign languages,” she said to me.
  3. He asked, “Are you still working on that project?” (question).
  4. “Stop eating much fatty food,” he said to me  (command) ⇒ He asked me to stop eating fatty food.

As you can see in sentence 2 above, ‘said‘ is used with a personal object (me) that is why it is followed by ‘to’.

Now, let’s turn sentence 1 above into reported speech (= indirect speech). Because the reporting verb, in direct speech, is in the past tense, in reported speech, the should go one step backwards in time.

The reported sentence (1) would look like this:

She said that she wanted to learn foreign languages.

So the present simple (want) becomes past simple (wanted). Also, the pronoun ‘I’ becomes she.

Tip: The tense in the reported part moves one step backwards in time

(but you can’t go further back than the past perfect).

Below is how tenses change in reported speech.

  • Am/is /are going to  ⇒ was / were going to
  • Present simple ⇒ Past perfect
  • Present continuous ⇒ Past continuous
  • Present perfect ⇒ Past perfect
  • Present perfect continuous ⇒ Past perfect continuous
  • Past simple ⇒ Past perfect
  • Past perfect ⇒ Past perfect
  • Past continuous ⇒ Past perfect continuous
  • Past perfect ⇒ Past perfect

Examples of direct and reported speech with different tenses

  • He said, “The food is really delicious.”

He said that the food was really delicious.

  • “I have stopped smoking,” he said to his father.

He told his father (that) he had stopped smoking.

  • “We have been studying Physics for hours,” she said.

She said (that) they had been studying physics for hours.

Modals in reported speech

Modal verbs also change in reported speech.

  • Will ⇒ would
  • Would ⇒ would
  • Shall ⇒ should / would
  • Can ⇒ could / would be able to
  • Could ⇒ could
  • May ⇒ might
  • Migh ⇒ might
  • Must ⇒ must / had to
  • Have to ⇒ had to
  • Needn’t ⇒ didn’t need to / didn’t have to
  • Had better ⇒ had better

Examples of direct and reported speech with modals

a. “I can drive for long hours,” Tom said.

Tom said (that) he could drive for long hours. (ability)

b. “I can finish all my tasks tomorrow,” she said to her boss.

She told her boss (that) she would be able to finish all her tasks the next day. (ability)

Tips: Can (ability in present)     ⇒ could

Can (ability in the future)         ⇒ would be able to

a. “You must respect our community rules,” she said.

She said I  we must / had to respect their community rules. (obligation/necessity)

b. “You must be a hard-working man,” she said.

She said that I must be a hard-working man. (deduction/conclusion)

Tips: When must expresses obligation, keep it (must) or change it to had to in reported speech.

If must expresses deduction or conclusion, it does not change in reported speech.

a. “We have plenty of food at home. You needn’t buy any now,” she said to her husband. (present)

She told her husband (that) they had plenty of food at home and that he didn’t need to /didn’t have to buy any food then.

b. “You needn’t come next Monday,” he said.

He said (that) I/we wouldn’t have to come the following Monday.

Tips: Needn’t (present)         ⇒ ⇒   didn’t need to / didn’t have to

Needn’t (future)                      ⇒ ⇒  wouldn’t have to

Adverbials of time and place in reported speech

Today → that day

Now  → then / at that time / at that moment

Tonight  → that night

Last night → the previous night

Yesterday  → the day before

Last week / year …  → the following week/ year …

Two days…ago  → two days… before (earlier)

Tomorrow  → the next day / the following day

The day after tomorrow  →  in two days’ time.

Next week … → the following week

Here  → there

This  → that

These → those

This video about direct and indirect speech might be of great help.

Reporting questions : Yes-no questions and wh-questions

  • Yes-no questions examples:

“Can you drive?” he asked her.

→ He asked (her) if /whether she could drive.

→ He wanted to know if /whether she could drive.

“Does your father speak English?” my teacher asked me.

→ My teacher asked (me)/ wanted to know if /whether my father spoke English.

“Are you working from home these days?” My friend asked.

→ My friend asked (me)/ wanted to know if /whether I was working from home those days.

Form: Subject + asked / wanted to know + if / whether + subject + verb ….

  • Wh-questions examples

Where do you live?he asked me.

→ He asked (me) /wanted to know where I lived.

“What time do the shops open?” he asked me.

→ He asked (me)/ wanted to know what time the shops opened.

“Where did you go last week-end?” she asked him.

→ She asked (him) /wanted to know where he had gone the week-end before.

Form: subject + asked/wanted to know + wh-question word (what/where/when…) +subject +verb….

You might also be interested in past perfect simple and past perfect continuous.

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