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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

Dear Kirk,
In the direct speech said in the past or will say in future, if what the speaker saidor will say is still true , What will be the time reference of direct speech.
Will it be taken with reference to present time(now) or with reference to the time (past/future) of utterance by the speaker.
Example-He said,"I am not well".Will we determine the time reference of "I am not well"with respect to now or the past if he is not well now also.
Similarly, Since he is not well, he will say,"I am not well" to his boss.
What will be the time reference in both the above examples of direct speech in past as well as future ?
Best regards

Hello Bharati

In the case of 'He said, "I am not well"', one understands that he was not well at the past time that is referred to. It can mean that he is still unwell now, but that is not clear from the statement. Other language would be needed to clarify that. 

In the case of 'He will say, "I am not well" to his boss', what I understand is that he won't be well when he says this to his boss.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Kirk,
Thanks a lot for clarifying my doubts promptly. I would request you to kindly guide me as to the time reference of subordinate clause of the following type sentences :
1."He will know that I am not studying"
or "That I am not studying will be known to him" . Here will the time reference of "that I am not studying be present time or will it be as per main clause which has future time reference.
2. Similarly, if the sentence were to read as "He will think that I am not studying ".In this the subordinate clause will refer to future or present time. Can you please give the reason also.
Thanks and regards.

Hello Bharati

What time these verb forms refer to really depends on the context. For 1, for example, 'I am not studying' could refer to a general present (for example, maybe I'm telling my parents that I'm studying many hours every day at university, but in actual fact I'm not even going to class) or it could refer to a specific time in the future (for example, if I expect my father to call me at 8 p.m. and I know I'll be out dancing instead of studying, 'I am not studying' could refer to that evening or even that specific time; both of these times are in the future).

Since there is no context for these sentences, I'm afraid I can't really say much more. Learners of languages often do not consider the fact that natural language occurs in a context, and it is only in context that utterances have meaning. This meaning can be more or less ambiguous, but without the context, it's not really possible to say for sure what exactly an utterance means. 

And then there are the speaker's intentions to consider. These are often decipherable from the context, but it's not always so easy.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, it is really important to know the reported speech, because it helps us understand the indirect way of saying or explaining things in English, or is saying something with your own words, changing the verb tense to the past.
That is why I appreciate being able to learn to use this grammar point.
Thanks

Thanks for the detailed explanation, it helped me a lot to understand the structure that is needed for this topic. I really appreciate it. And despite everything, I think I need a lot of practice :c

Hi !
The information on this page has helped me to easily understand the topic of Reported Speech.
The exmples and tets are understandable,although i will continue practicing, relating this class with the common way in which i speak spanish.
Thanks for the help

this excersise helped me practice and remenber things that i had forgotten.

The topics of the portal have good information, present their proper use and structures to facilitate their understanding. This tests help a lot to practice the topics and see where we have failures.

This information helped me understand the topic and the examples helped me understand it better.

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