Reported speech 1 – statements

Do you know how to report what somebody else said? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

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

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Average: 3 (2 votes)

Submitted by Roger3178 on Mon, 10/10/2022 - 09:50

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Hi. How can you transform these sentences into indirect/reported speech?

"He has never met us", he admitted.
"At one o'clock, he has been doing nothing", he said.
"They have closed down the previous year", she explained.
"He wishes he could be independent", Neil said.
"While he is sleeping, someone screamed in the garden", he claimed.

I was wondering, should I insert fictitious names? Doesn't seem right if I use "that person" phrase.

(He admitted that (that person) never met them.)
He said that at one o'clock, that person has been doing nothing.

Neil said that (that person) wishes he could be independent.
He claimed that while that person is sleeping, someone screamed in the garden.

Thank you very much.

Hello Roger3178,

Yes, it sounds awkward to say 'that person'. In a real situation, it's usually clear who a pronoun refers to, and in some of these cases it could be the speaker, so I'd just say use a pronoun. For example: 'He claimed that someone screamed while he was sleeping' or 'Neil said he wished he could be independent'.

In cases where there seem to be two different people, it's still OK to use a pronoun: 'He admitted that he [which refers to another person] had never met them/never met them'.

The second sentence sounds a little odd to me; I'm not sure why the present perfect continuous is used.

Does that make sense?

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

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