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Reported speech 1 – statements

Do you know how to report what somebody else said?

Look at these examples to see how we can tell someone what another person said.

direct speech: 'I love the Toy Story films,' she said.
indirect speech: She said she loved the Toy Story films.

direct speech: 'I worked as a waiter before becoming a chef,' he said.
indirect speech: He said he'd worked as a waiter before becoming a chef.

direct speech: 'I'll phone you tomorrow,' he said.
indirect speech: He said he'd phone me the next day.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Grammar B1-B2: Reported speech 1: 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

Reported speech is when we tell someone what another person said. To do this, we can use direct speech or indirect speech.

direct speech: 'I work in a bank,' said Daniel.
indirect speech: Daniel said that he worked in a bank.

In indirect speech, we often use a tense which is 'further back' in the past (e.g. worked) than the tense originally used (e.g. work). This is called 'backshift'. We also may need to change other words that were used, for example pronouns.

Present simple, present continuous and present perfect

When we backshift, present simple changes to past simple, present continuous changes to past continuous and present perfect changes to past perfect.

'I travel a lot in my job.'
  • Jamila said that she travelled a lot in her job.
'The baby's sleeping!'
  • He told me the baby was sleeping.
'I've hurt my leg.'
  • She said she'd hurt her leg.

Past simple and past continuous

When we backshift, past simple usually changes to past perfect simple, and past continuous usually changes to past perfect continuous.

'We lived in China for five years.'
  • She told me they'd lived in China for five years.
'It was raining all day.'
  • He told me it had been raining all day.

Past perfect

The past perfect doesn't change.

'I'd tried everything without success, but this new medicine is great.'
  • He said he'd tried everything without success, but the new medicine was great.

No backshift

If what the speaker has said is still true or relevant, it's not always necessary to change the tense. This might happen when the speaker has used a present tense.

'I go to the gym next to your house.'
  • Jenny told me that she goes to the gym next to my house. I'm thinking about going with her.
'I'm working in Italy for the next six months.'
  • He told me he's working in Italy for the next six months. Maybe I should visit him!
'I've broken my arm!'
  • She said she's broken her arm, so she won't be at work this week.

Pronouns, demonstratives and adverbs of time and place

Pronouns also usually change in indirect speech.

'I enjoy working in my garden,' said Bob.
  • Bob said that he enjoyed working in his garden.
'We played tennis for our school,' said Alina.
  • Alina told me they'd played tennis for their school.

However, if you are the person or one of the people who spoke, then the pronouns don't change.

'I'm working on my thesis,' I said.
  • I told her that I was working on my thesis.
'We want our jobs back!' we said.
  • We said that we wanted our jobs back.

We also change demonstratives and adverbs of time and place if they are no longer accurate.

'This is my house.'
  • He said this was his house. [You are currently in front of the house.]
  • He said that was his house. [You are not currently in front of the house.]
'We like it here.'
  • She told me they like it here. [You are currently in the place they like.]
  • She told me they like it there. [You are not in the place they like.]
'I'm planning to do it today.'
  • She told me she's planning to do it today. [It is currently still the same day.]
  • She told me she was planning to do it that day. [It is not the same day any more.]

In the same way, these changes to those, now changes to then, yesterday changes to the day before, tomorrow changes to the next/following day and ago changes to before.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 1

Grammar B1-B2: Reported speech 1: 2

Language level

Intermediate: B1

Comments

Hello ! please i want to know is it this sentence (she told me they like it here) true in indirect speech or we have to change the present simple to past simple ?

Hello Leila Bounar,

Both they like it here and they liked it here are grammatically possible.

It's not necessary to change the tense of the verb in reported speech if the situation is still true:

She told me they like it here - they liked it here when she spoke; they still like it here now

 

She told me they liked it here - they liked it here when she spoke; we don't know if they still like it here or not

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Yeah ,thank you !!

It's really helpfu.

Hi Kirk,

In the following question, can b) be the answer ?
We're meeting Tonight at 8 o'clock.' → She said that they ___ meeting Toni at 8 o'clock. I hope they're having a nice time!
a.were meeting
b.are meeting
c.had been meeting

thanks with regards

Hi wycam10,

Both answers /a/ and /b/ are possible here. The verb can be moved one step back (present > past) in reported speech, but as the statement is still true it is also possible to leave the verb in the present tense.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, thank you very much for your clear explanation.

Dear Kirk,
I will try to elaborate on the example sentence to seek your valuable clarifications.
If the present(general) reality is that "He is not working hard"these days, then if the sentence is made like
"His father felt that he is not working hard ".Here wouldnt the reported speech (subordinate clause) "that he is not working hard " refer to the past since the main clause verb(knew) refers to the past even though presently also "he is not working hard"
Similarly, if the reported speech sentence is "His father will feel that he is not working hard" will the reported clause"that he is not working hard" not refer to future time in sync with the future time reference of main clause verb"will feel" even though presently also "he is not working hard".
Your elaboration will indeed provide me with the much needed clarity.
Warm regards

Hello Bharati

In theory, if the father was speaking about the past, then the correct form would be 'that he was not working hard'. Perhaps someone might say 'is not working', but if this is about the past, the past form is the correct one. 'was not working' could also refer to the present, and also the past and the present.

'is not working' in theory refers to the present, though this present could include the past and perhaps even the future. It's not that the verb form itself says this; it's just the form that many speakers could use in such a case.

As for the future time reference, yes, it would most likely refer to the future. I look at it as more of a prediction, since we don't know the future.

Hope this helps.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Bharati

It's more common for the subordinate clause to have the verb in the past ('was not working'), but people sometimes use the verb in the present there, particularly when they are referring to something that is still true.

Even if the verb in the subordinate clause is in a past form, in some cases it can refer to the present.

Only the context or further clarification on the part of the speaker will make it clear what times are being referred to.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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