Many teachers and learners think that tense forms in reported speech are complex.

In fact, "reported speech" follows exactly the same rules as the rest of the language.

1. When we report what people say or think we use:

  • clauses with that:

Everybody knew that it was Henry’s birthday tomorrow.
She explained that she would do as much as she could to help.

but we can leave out the word that:

Everybody knew it was Henry’s birthday tomorrow.
She explained she would do as much as she could to help.

  • wh-clauses (see Wh-clauses) and clauses with if (see note in Wh-Clauses)

He was asked what he had been doing the previous night.
She explained why she went by train rather than by car.

  • to-infinitives:

We all agreed to do as much as we could.
Who told you to come?

2. We very rarely try to report exactly what someone has said. We usually give a summary:

Mary: Oh dear, we’ve been walking for hours. I am exhausted. I don’t think I can go any further. I really need to stop for a rest.
Peter: Don’t worry. I’m not surprised that you’re tired. I’m tired too. I’ll tell you what. I’ll see if I can find a place to sit down, and then we can stop and have our picnic.
>>>
When Mary complained that she was tired out after walking so far, Peter said they could stop for a picnic.

3. Tense forms in reports and summaries.

When we are reporting what people say or think in English we need to remember:

  • that the tense forms in reports and summaries are the same as in the rest of the language:
This is a letter that Andrew Brown wrote ten years ago:

I am twenty-two years old and I am at University studying engineering. I take my final exams next month and I will finish university in July.

I want to take a year off and travel round the world. I will need to make some money while I am travelling so I would like to learn to teach English as a second language so that I can make some money while I am abroad. A friend of mine has recommended your course very highly. She also gave me some details, but I would like to ask a few more questions.

What courses do you have in the summer and when do they start? How much do the courses cost? Is there an examination at the end?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Regards,

Andrew Brown.

 If you were telling a story about Andrew might write something like this.:
When Andrew was 22 he was an engineering student in his last month at the university. He wanted to travel abroad after he had finished his course at the university, but he would need to earn some money while he was abroad so he wanted to learn to teach English as a foreign language. A friend had recommended a course but Andrew needed more information. So he wrote to the school and asked them when their courses started and how much they were. He also wanted to know if there was an examination at the end of the course.

You would use past tense forms to talk about something that happened ten years ago.

If you were reporting or summarising what Andrew wrote you might start off by saying:

Andrew told me that when he was 22 he was an engineering student in his last month…

... and you could go on in the same way. You would use past tense forms to talk about something which happened ten years ago. So tense forms in reports and summaries in English are the same as in the rest of the language.

  • Sometimes you have to choose between a past tense form and a present tense form.

    If you are talking about the past but you mention something that is still true you could use a present tense form to show you agree that it is true:

John said he had stayed at the Shangri-la because it is the most comfortable hotel in town.
Mary said she enjoyed the film because Robert de Niro is her favourite actor.
Helen said she loves visiting New York.

... or a past tense form:

John said he had stayed at the Shangri-la because it was the most comfortable hotel in town.
Mary said she enjoyed the film because Robert de Niro was her favourite actor.
Helen said she loved visiting New York,

  • If we are talking about something that everybody knows is true we normally use a present tense:

Michael said he had always wanted to climb Everest because it is the highest mountain in the world.
Mary said she loved visiting New York because it is such an exciting city.

4.  to-infinitives in reports and summaries:

We often use the to-infinitive after verbs of thinking and feeling to report or summarise actions:

decide - hope - intend

  • “I think I will start all over again” >>>
    He decided to start all over again.
  • “I am going to write to the newspaper about it” >>>
    She intended to write to the newspaper about it.

… and verbs of saying:

agree - promise - refuse

  • “I can do the shopping for you if you like” >>>
    He agreed to do the shopping for me.
  • I’m sorry. I would love to help you but I’m afraid I can’t >>>
    She refused to help me.

After some verbs we use a direct object and the infinitive (see verbs followed by infinitive):

advise - ask - encourage - invite - order - remind - tell - warn -
expect - intend - want - would like - would prefer

  • “I think you should turn the lights out now” >>>
    She reminded me to turn the lights out.
  • “Be very careful, children. The sea can be very dangerous so please don’t go in the water.” >>>
    She warned the children not to go in the water.


 

Match the sentences with the reports/summaries.

Section: 

Comments

Hello ,

"Mary : I am going to London tomorrow."

from two text books I saw "tomorrow" to be converted into "the next day / the following day " for reported speech,

Mary said she was going to London the next day / the following day.

but I also saw "yesterday " to be converted into " the day before",

so is it ok to write : Mary said she was going to London the day after.
?

is it ok to convert "yesterday" into "the previous day" ?

Thank you for help!

Hello tssang,

This depends on the context, and specifically when you are reporting the speech.

Mary said she was going to London tomorrow. - You would say this the day before her trip. In other words, if she is going to London on Wednesday then you could only say this on Tuesday.

Mary said she was going to London the next day. - You would say this at any time, and it tells us that Mary said this the day before her trip.

The same is true of 'yesterday' and 'the previous day'. The first refers to time from your perspective, the second to time from her perspective.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank Peter for reply.

but actually I already got what you explained above ( about if that event already happened or not )before I posted the question. The point of my question is..

I saw from two text books saying "tomorrow" to be converted into "the next day / the following day" ( but they don't mention "the day after ")
but I saw "yesterday" to become "the day before"

e.g Mary said she was going to London the next day.

is it ok to put "the day after" instead of "the next day " :

"Mary said she was going to London the day after. " ?
(as I usually see people say this by using the next day / the following day , I wonder if using "the day after" in the above example is grammatically right or not)

Hello tssang,

Yes, you can say 'the day after' in the way you suggest here. Good work!

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

hello. If the the following sentence is in passive voice; may you please help me formulate the active voice : "Peter got hurt in a car crash."

Hello Lamastry,

To do that, you need to use a reflexive pronoun: 'He hurt himself ...'

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello. I'm not sure if i posted on the right page may you please help me know the difference between "in the end" and "at the end".

Hi teachers.
I do not understand how tomorrow and the past tense are together in a sentence above.
Everybody knew that it was Henry's birthday tomorrow
Is this correct?
Everybody knows that it is Henry's birthday tomorrow

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