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
Read the explanation to learn more.
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.'
'The baby's sleeping!'
- Jamila said that she travelled a lot in her job.
'I've hurt my leg.'
- He told me the baby was sleeping.
- 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.'
'It was raining all day.'
- She told me they'd lived in China for five years.
- He told me it had been raining all day.
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.
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.'
'I'm working in Italy for the next six months.'
- Jenny told me that she goes to the gym next to my house. I'm thinking about going with her.
'I've broken my arm!'
- He told me he's working in Italy for the next six months. Maybe I should visit him!
- 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.
'We played tennis for our school,' said Alina.
- Bob said that he enjoyed working in his garden.
- 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.
'We want our jobs back!' we said.
- I told her that I was working on my thesis.
- 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.'
'We like it here.'
- 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.]
'I'm planning to do it today.'
- 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.]
- 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
Hello Umoh Margaret
Of the three answers, only 'before' works. 'then' just doesn't make any sense in that place in the sentence. 'ago' is correct in the first sentence (when the speaker is speaking in the present moment at that time), but since the sentence that reports past speech is referring to a past time, 'ago' is not appropriate. Instead, we use 'before' or 'earlier'.
This is explained in the last sentence of the Grammar explanation:
Does that make sense?
All the best
The LearnEnglish Team