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Reported Speech (Indirect Speech)


What is reported speech?

Reported speech is when you tell somebody else what you or a person said before.

Distinction must be made between direct speech and reported speech.

Direct speech vs Reported speech:

Direct speech Reported speech
She says: "I like tuna fish." She says that she likes tuna fish.
She said: "I'm visiting Paris next weekend" She said that she was visiting Paris the following weekend.

Different types of sentences

When you use reported speech, you either report:

  • statements
  • questions
  • requests / commands
  • other types

A. Reporting Statements

When transforming statements, check whether you have to change:

  • pronouns
  • tense
  • place and time expression

1- Pronouns

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

Example:

She says, “My dad likes roast chicken.” – She says that her dad likes roast chicken.

2- Tenses

  • 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.
Direct speech Reported speech
(no backshift) “I write poems.” He says that he writes poems.
(backshift) “I write poems.”
He said that he wrote poems.

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).

Example:
He said, “I am happy.” – He said that he was happy.

Examples of the main changes in tense:

Direct Speech Reported Speech
Simple Present
He said: "I am happy"
Simple Past
He said that he was happy
Present Progressive
He said: "I'm looking for my keys"
Past Progressive
He said that he was looking for his keys
Simple Past
He said: "I visited New York last year"
Past Perfect Simple
He said that he had visited New York the previous year.
Present Perfect
He said: " I've lived here for a long time "
Past Perfect
He said that he had lived there for a long time
Past Perfect
He said: "They had finished the work when I arrived"
Past Perfect
He said that they had finished the work when he had arrived"
Past Progressive
He said: "I was playing football when the accident occurred"
Past Perfect Progressive
He said that he had been playing football when the accident had occurred
Present Perfect Progressive
He said:"I have been playing football for two hours."
Past Perfect Progressive
He said that he had been playing football for two hours
Past Perfect Progressive
He said: "I had been reading a newspaper when the light went off"
Past Perfect Progressive
He said that he had been reading a newspaper when the light had gone off
Future Simple (will+verb)
He said: "I will open the door."
Conditional (would+verb)
He said that he would open the door.
Conditional (would+verb)
He said: "I would buy Mercedes if I were rich"
Conditional (would+verb)
He said that he would buy Mercedes if he had been rich"

The modal verbs could, should, would, might, needn't, ought to, used to do not normally change.
Example:
He said, "She might be right." – He said that she might be right.

Other modal verbs may change:

Modal Direct speec Repored speech
can "I can do it." He said he could do it.
may "May I go out?" He wanted to know if he might go out.
must "She must apply for the job." He said that she must/had to apply for the job.
will "They will call you." He tod her that they would call her.

3- Place, demonstratives and time expressions

Place, demonstratives and time expressions change if the context of the reported statement (i.e. the location and/or the period of time) is different from that of the direct speech.

In the following table, you will find the different changes of place; demonstratives and time expressions.

Direct Speech Reported Speech
Time Expressions
today that day
now then
yesterday the day before
… days ago … days before
last week the week before
next year the following year
tomorrow the next day / the following day
Place
here there
Demonstratives
this that
these those

 

B. Reporting Questions

When transforming questions, check whether you have to change:

  • pronouns
  • place and time expressions
  • tenses (backshift)

Also note that you have to:

  • transform the question into an indirect question
  • use the question word (where, when, what, how) or if / whether
Types of questions Direct speech Reported speech
With question word (what, why, where, how...) "Why" don’t you speak English?” He asked me why I didn’t speak English.
Without question word (yes or no questions) “Do you speak English?” He asked me whether / if I spoke English.

C. Reporting requests / commands

When transforming requests and commands, check whether you have to change:

  • pronouns
  • place and time expressions
Direct speech Reported speech
“Nancy,do the exercise.“ He told Nancy to do the exercise.
"Nancy, give me your pen, please." He asked Nancy to give him her pen.

Tenses are not relevant for requests – simply use to  / not to + verb (infinitive without "to")


Example:

She said, “Sit down." - She asked me to sit down.

She said, "don't be lazy" - She asked me not to be lazy

For affirmative use to + infinitive (without to)

For negative requests, use not to + infinitive (without to).

D. Other transformations

  • Expressions of advice with must, should and ought are usually reported using advise / urge.
    Example:
    “You must read this book.“
    He advised / urged me to read that book.
  • The expression let’s is usually reported using suggest. In this case, there are two possibilities for reported speech: gerund or statement with should.
    Example:
    “Let’s go to the cinema.“=
    1. He suggested going to the cinema.
    2. He suggested that we should go to the cinema.

Main clauses connected with and/but

If two complete main clauses are connected with ‚and or ‚but, put ‚that after the conjunction.

Example:
He said,“I saw her but she didn't see me.“ – He said that he had seen her but that she hadn't seen him.“

If the subject is dropped in the second main clause (the conjunction is followed by a verb), do not use ‚that‘.

Example:
She said,“I am a nurse and work in a hospital.“ – He said that she was a nurse and worked in a hospital.“

Exercises on the reported speech.

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