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

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Language level

B1 English level (intermediate)

Submitted by Sandy Nguyen on Sun, 17/07/2022 - 10:25

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1. Direct: " Columbus discovered America in 1492"
Indirect: Joe said Columbus discovered America in 1492
2. Direct: "Nick left this morning"
Indirect: She told me Nick had left that morning
Direct speech is past simple, but case 1 used in past simple, case 2 used in past perfect. Is there any difference between case 1 and case 2? Help me.

Hello Sandy Nguyen,

We use perfect forms when there is a connection of some kind between an earlier action and a past, present or future situation. For example, look at these two sentences:

The bus left, then Paul arrived.

The bus had left when Paul arrived.

The first sentence tells us about the sequence of events: first the bus leaves and after that Paul arrives. There's no reason to think the events are connected or influence on another. However, the second sentence is different. Here, we understand that there is some connection between the events – probably that Paul wanted to catch the bus and did not.

 

Now, if you think about your examples you can see that there is no connection between Joe's speech (Joe said...) and the discovery of the Americas by Columbus. However, there may well be a connection between Nick leaving and the situation of the second example. Perhaps the speaker (the person 'she' is talking to) wanted to speak to Nick, for example.

 

The choice of past perfect or past simple is not a black and white question. It's very much dependent on how the speaker sees the actions/states and what the context is. I hope the explanation has helped to clarify it for you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by cute on Mon, 11/07/2022 - 08:16

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Hi team, thanks a lot for your detail explanation about report statements. I have a question:
Question 1
*Direct: "I was waiting for the bus when he arrived."
*Indirect (1): She told me that she was waiting for the bus when he arrived.
*Indirect (2): She told me that she had been waiting for the bus when he had arrived.
*Indirect (3): She told me that she had been waiting for the bus when he arrived.
*Question 2:
*Direct: "He could read when he was three."
*Indirect (1): She said that he could read when he was three.
*Indirect (2): She said that he could read when he had been three.
Which indirect sentence is correct?
Hope you reply soon.
Thanks a lot.

Hello cute,

For question 1, both 1 and 3 are correct -- which is better depends on the situation. Most books would probably say 3 is the correct one.

For question 2, 1 is correct.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by abhay on Tue, 24/05/2022 - 06:44

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Hello Sir,
what is the indirect speech of this sentence?
He said, “let it rain ever so hard, I shall go”.

Hello abhay,

I'm not completely sure I fully understand what 'he' intends by saying this, but you could say something like 'He said he would go however hard it rained'. A structure like this one requires a little creativity!

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Hamdy Ali on Thu, 12/05/2022 - 18:51

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She promised me that she(will-would) help me in the training tomorrow.

Submitted by Barbarap70 on Mon, 25/04/2022 - 17:03

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hello. I have a doubt, please could you help me?
If in the direct speech I use the time adverb " The next Friday" , is it right to replace it with the form " The Friday after"? In my opinion it is wrong, but I have read many explanation about the replacement of next and now I'm a little bit confused. Thanks
ex. "I'm going to stay out later next Friday"
She said she was going to stay out later the Friday after.

Hello Barbarap70,

Yes, that's correct. It is context-dependent in the sense that we don't know when 'next Friday' is when we are reporting the speech as we may be reporting it a few moment after it was said or a few days or even longer. However, in general we change 'next week' (etc) to 'the week after' or 'the following week' when reporting speech.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by jaydeptrai on Fri, 31/12/2021 - 04:09

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Hi, can you help me with this. Why don't we backshift the 2nd clause? I thought the 2nd clause must be "when she had retired".
'She had worked for that school for 40 years when she retired.' → He told me that she had for that school for 40 years when she retired.

Thank you.

Hello jaydeptrai,

Both forms are possible here but I think the past simple is better because it makes clear that the 40 years preceded the retirement. If you use 'she had retired' then the sequence is not clear and it could mean that she first retired (from a different job) and then began working for the school, which she did for 40 years. The past simple removes this potential ambiguity.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by eloee100 on Thu, 09/12/2021 - 08:31

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hi
could you please help me with this question
she said "I had to come back fast because it was very crowded"
she said that she had to come back fast because it was very crowded is this right or she said that she had had to come back fast because it was very crowded is right?
and explanation, please!

Hello eloee100,

Normally we apply the 'backshift' to the reported action, so the past simple 'had to' is normally backshifted to the past perfect 'had had to' (that is, your second sentence).

In informal speaking, though, sometimes people don't backshift a verb if it won't cause any confusion.

If you're writing for an English exam or English teacher, I'd recommend you use the backshifted form. It's probably also better to use it in your informal speaking, too.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by GiulianaAndy on Sat, 14/08/2021 - 20:04

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Hello, thanks a lot for the lesson. Excuse me, I have an issue with the preposition "that" because in some cases I've seen this preposition after the phrase "He said". I mean "He said that......" In reported speech and sometimes not; I was wondering in which situations may I used the preposition "that" after the phrases " He told me" and "He said" ?and I would like to know if the use of the preposition "that" would change the meaning of the sentence in reported speech, please Thank you :)

Hello GiulianaAndy,

Used in reported speech, 'that' is a conjunction rather than a preposition. In this use (reported speech) it does not change the maning and can be omitted.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Help me please change this sentence into reported speech.
Roy's mother said: "I am glad my son is a musician."
Which is right "Roy's mother said she was glad her son was a musician"or "Roy's mother said she is glad her son is a musician" ?

Hello K.kh,

Both forms are possible. If you keep the verb in the present tense ('...is a musician') then you are making it clear that the son is still a musician now.
If you move the verb back into the past tense ('...was a musician') then we do not know if the son is still a musician; we know only that he was a musician when his mother spoke.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Bahri amal on Wed, 24/03/2021 - 02:37

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This explanation is so good for me, It really helped me to understand the topic

Submitted by sisi on Fri, 19/02/2021 - 17:28

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Hello, can you tell me why in the last question the answer is before and not ago? Thanks

Hello sisi,

This is explained in the last part of the grammar explanation:

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.

This is because the direct speech sentence was spoken a week ago. If the reported speech sentence said 'ago', it would refer to a time after the time the direct speech was said.

For example, if today is 21 February, the direct speech sentence was said on 14 February. If the reported speech sentence said 'ago', it would refer to 18 February instead of 11 February.

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by BobMux on Thu, 11/02/2021 - 15:30

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Hello The LearnEnglish Team, I would appreciate it if you could help me report these words below, i mean, how do we report imagined conditional sentences? John said" if my mom was alive, how proud she would have been"

Hi BobMux,

I'd probably say this:

  • John wondered how proud his mom would have been, if she had been alive.

The reporting verb wonder shows John's imagining well here. The past simple verb (was) is backshifted to the past perfect (had been). 

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Stellaaa on Tue, 22/12/2020 - 01:27

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Hello Sir told us that if you want to know something just mention him,then he will answer us Is that correct?
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 22/12/2020 - 09:20

In reply to by Stellaaa

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Hello Stellaaa,

That's almost correct. You should say 'mention it to him':

Sir told us that if you want to know something just mention it to him, and he will answer us.

Obviously, we can't see the context in which you are using this, but I think this is what you intend.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Timothy555 on Thu, 03/12/2020 - 13:08

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Hi! You mentioned that "The past perfect doesn't change". Is this referring to the past perfect simple tense? What about the past perfect continuous tense? Thanks!
Profile picture for user Peter M.

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 04/12/2020 - 08:06

In reply to by Timothy555

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Hi Tim,

This refers to both simple and continuous forms. If the original sentence (direct speech) contains a past perfect form, simple or continuous, it does not change when reported. 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sebastian Parada on Tue, 24/11/2020 - 00:28

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I ran into these type of sentences. I'm trying to understand how I'd change them into Reported speech: "I like the new teacher, he is intelligent" do both parts of the sentence change into the past or just the first one? "Don't stop, we can win this race" Same question here

Hello Sebastian,

When direct speech is reported we can shift the verb form back in time to show that we are talking about the time of speaking, or we can leave the verb form as it is if the information is still true at the time of reporting. Thus we often have a choice.

Direct speech: "I like the new teacher, he is intelligent."

Reported speech 1: She said she liked the new teacher, he was intelligent.

Reported speech 2: She said she liked the new teacher, he is intelligent.

The first reported speech sentence tells us that at the time when she spoke to us, the teacher was intelligent. It does not tell us anything about the present. The teacher may have changed in some way, or may have died.

The second version tells us that the teacher was intelligent at the time she spoke to us, and is still intelligent today.

As intelligence is a characteristic which is considered inherent and unchanging for the most part, unless the teacher has died there is no reason not to use the second version, and it would clarify any ambiguities regarding whether or not the teacher is still with us. However, grammatically speaking, both versions are correct.

 

Imperatives are usually reported using tell with an infinitive. As the second clause is not an imperative a second reporting structure is required or a linker of some kind:

Direct speech: "Don't stop, we can win this race"

Reported speech 1: He told us not to stop because/as/since we could win the race.

Reported speech 2: He told us not to stop. He said we could win the race.

Reported speech 3: He told us not to stop because/as/since we can win the race.

Reported speech 2: He told us not to stop. He said we can win the race.

It seems highly unlikely that the speaker is reporting this during the race (though not impossible, of course), so versions 1 and 2 would be more likely. However, if the race were still ongoing (imagine two teammates talking during the race) then versions 3 and 4 would be possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,

I'm in confusion regarding how the imperative sentence "Don't stop, we can win the race" has been reported. If these words are uttered by any third person speaker, shouldn't we then change the pronoun 'we' to 'they'? Like for instance-- He told us not to stop as they could win the race. But if it is said by first person figure, then the one mentioned in the above reply is correct. The reported version of the speech should be then--I told not to stop as we could win the race. If I haven't been able to get the context considering which you changed the speech, please do let clarify.

With regards
Sandeep Mandal

Hello smandal973,

It really depends on the details of the context. We could have a situation in which there are many people involved, such as in a team sport. Then it would be possible to have someone who is part of the team but who was not the speaker.

Team member 1: "Don't stop, we can win the race."
Team member 2: "What did he say?"
Team member 3: "He told us..."

I was actually thinking about a team coach giving instructions to a team, but you could imagine all sorts of contexts which would give rise to different pronoun choices.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Via on Mon, 19/10/2020 - 22:38

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Hello team, I noticed that "had" is used although there was only a single event. e.g, 'We played tennis for our school,' said Alina. e.g, Alina told me they'd played tennis for their school. Does it valid to use "had" even with single event? Thanks a lot, my appreciations.

Hi Via,

Well spotted, and it is correct! Actually, there are two past events. The second event is the act of speaking (Alina told me). The past perfect event (they'd played tennis) happened earlier than that act of speaking.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by emmanuelniyomugabo12 on Sat, 26/09/2020 - 05:49

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Hello, that's great to be with you at this moment, and on my side I take overlook to show you that I'm together with you.

Submitted by NataliaVarela on Wed, 23/09/2020 - 15:39

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Hi there! I am trying to practice reported speech with famous quotes from writers, presidents and so on. But honestly, I keep having problems to identify when to change the tense, since sometimes we don't do it because that can still be true. For example, if I want to report the following quote, how could that be? "Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will take you everywhere". Thanks

Hi NataliaVarela,

You are correct that we often have a choice when reporting what people said. Both of these are possible:

1. [Name] said that logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will take you everywhere.

2. [Name] said that logic would get you from A to Z; imagination would take you everywhere.

The first, as you say, tells us that the person reporting the statement believes that it is still true today; the second does not give any indication of this.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nicolettalee on Tue, 08/09/2020 - 13:16

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Scenario: This morning, 09:00 Tom says, "I will meet you in the cafe at 4pm" It's now 12:00noon. a) Shall I say in reported speech - Tom said he will meet me in the cafe this afternoon. b) Or I should stick with the past tense - Tom said he would meet me in the cafe this afternoon. ----> but this seems strange because it's now 12:00noon, and 4pm is still in the future. Which one is correct?
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Submitted by Kirk on Tue, 08/09/2020 - 16:10

In reply to by nicolettalee

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Hello nicolettalee,

B is the best answer here, particularly if you're taking an English test or writing this in a text. In reported speech, 'would' describes past beliefs about the future.

In informal speaking, though, people sometimes use forms like A. That's fine for informal speaking, but strictly speaking, 'would' is the correct form here.

By the way, we have another explanation of reported speech in our English grammar reference that you might also find useful.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kim Hui-jeong on Mon, 17/08/2020 - 22:13

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I've posted a comment below, just in case.

Submitted by Kim Hui-jeong on Sun, 16/08/2020 - 02:25

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(I have two more questions, sir.) Q1. "He graduated from Havard last year. he majored in philosophy. And yesterday, Sarah told me that he (had also majored/ also majored) sociology." Can I also use 'also majored' instead of 'had also majored' not concerning the tense of its main clause('told'), but simply matching the tense with 'graduated', which is not its main clause, if the time of 'also majored' is clear? Q2. "He graduated from Havard last year. But although he (had majored/majored) in philosophy, Sarah told me yesterday that he doesn't have any knowledge in the field." Even if your answer to Q1 is 'no', can I use 'majored' in the example sentences of Q2 in the same way I illustrated at Q1, since it's right after the sentence 'he gratuated~'?

Hi Kim Hui-jeong,

Yes! I think both options make sense in both sentences. Actually, I slightly prefer the past simple versions that you suggest. As the other sentences make the timeframe of actions clear, it's common in everyday language use to simplify the tenses we use. 

Thank you for your interesting questions! We do our best to respond to questions as soon as we can, but we are just a small team.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

(Thank you, and no problem, sir.) I thought the main idea of this link of mine might help, so I'll leave it below. I posted it while I was waiting for your friendly reply.

Hi Kim Hui-jeong,

OK, great! I'm glad you've found the answer.

Just to let you know, I've deleted the link as we don't allow linking to external websites here (House rules).

Best wishes to you,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kim Hui-jeong on Sun, 16/08/2020 - 02:02

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He is going to see Mike. And he will tell you after that that he (will meet/met/has met) Mike. Which tense must I use? (Always grateful for your elaborate replies.)

Hi Kim Hui-jeong,

He would say that he met or has met Mike. The first option (met) would be more common in American English, and the second (has met) would be more common in British English.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by OwO on Fri, 07/08/2020 - 19:29

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Can you say: ‘she told him to go and to never come back again.’ As a reported speech?

Submitted by manu on Mon, 03/08/2020 - 21:05

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Indirect speech: 1) He said she had been writing when he had gone there. when we convert it into a direct speech,which of these is correct and which of these is he referring to? a) He said " she was writing when he went there", or b) He said " she had been writing when he went there". 2) Indirect speech: He said Everyday the train passed by while she was reading a newspaper. when we convert it into a direct speech,which of these is correct and which of these is he referring to? a) He said " Everyday, the train passed by while she was reading a newspaper ", or b) He said " Everyday, the train passes by while she is reading a newspaper "

Submitted by manu on Mon, 03/08/2020 - 00:42

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Ex 1) Direct speech: He said " We lived here for 5 years" Indirect speech : He told me that they had lived there for 5 years. Ex 2) Direct speech: He said " We have lived here for 5 years" Indirect speech: He told me that they had lived there for 5 years. The question is when someone reports in indirect speech both the above examples have "had". which one should I take now. Should I understand that he was referring to direct speech of Ex1 or Ex2.