Reported speech: statements

Reported speech: 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 2

Grammar B1-B2: Reported speech 1: 2

Language level

Average: 4.1 (140 votes)

Hello tunalee,

Often we don't backshift tenses when we think the situation is still current. Assuming that the police are still looking for the woman asked about, this is a good example of this idea. In other words, saying 'what she was wearing' suggests that the police are still looking for her.

Backshift in the time clause 'when I last saw her' wouldn't make sense if the main clause has past continuous. Even when the main clause says 'had been wearing', it's quite common for backshifting not to occur in time clauses. As far as I know, this is simply because the specific time being talked about has already been made clear in the main clause.

I hope this helps.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Sep80 on Sun, 09/07/2023 - 21:37

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Hello LearnEnglish team,
Hope you are doing well.
How does the word "yesterday" change in the sentence below when the sentence is reported on the same day?

She went to work yesterday.

For example, if this sentence is said on July 10th and I report it on July 10th, would it be "She said she had gone to work the day before" or "She said she had gone to work yesterday"? Or are both possible? I would be grateful if you could provide an explanation about it.

Hi Sep80,

Thanks for your question! Both of your suggestions are OK, but I would definitely prefer to say "yesterday", as it's simpler and easier to understand than "the day before". The page above explains the general idea: "We also change demonstratives and adverbs of time and place if they are no longer accurate" - but "yesterday" is still accurate, so there's no need to change it.

Many people would also say this, without backshifting:

  • She said she went to work yesterday.

It's not wrong to backshift to the past perfect, but it makes it sound more historical (especially if you use "the day before" instead of "yesterday").

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by ismayil175 on Thu, 08/06/2023 - 11:54

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Dear teacher,
I would like to understand it better. So I have a question on my mind.
"You can move in immediately". She told me I ___ immediately.
a) will move in
b) would move in
c) can move in
d) could move in
e) can not move in
I can`t decide which one to choose C or D.
Thanks

Hi ismayil175,

I would choose B or C. B is good if you can still move in at the time that you are saying the "She told me ..." sentence. C can also have that meaning. Alternatively, it can mean that the situation is no longer true at the time that you are reporting it (e.g. if you actually did move in at that time).

D seems incorrect because it shows the opposite meaning ("cannot") to what she told you.

I hope that helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by User_1 on Wed, 24/05/2023 - 14:06

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Hello,
About direct and indirect speech.
I understand the structure below:
Direct speech: 'I'll phone you tomorrow,' he said.
Indirect speech: He said he would phone me the next day.
When there is the present tense form, for instance:
Direct speech: 'I'll phone you tomorrow,' he says.
How does indirect speech become?
Would the indirect speech still be the same: He said he would phone me the next day?
Thanks for help

Hi User_1,

Good question! If someone uses the present tense verb like this, they are probably doing it to achieve a particular narrative effect: to give the feeling of the action going on while the listener is listening to it. This makes the action seem more immediate (rather than using the past tense, which simply states what happened as an already-completed action).

So, I would say it like this: He says he'll phone me the next day. I wouldn't change either verb, because that would lessen the intended effect of using the present tense (the feeling of immediacy). There's nothing wrong with saying He said he would ... , but it loses that narrative effect.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Thank you, Jonathan.
I had doubts since I didn’t know if "He says he'll phone me the next day"
were grammatically correct.

Submitted by akinaa on Sat, 01/04/2023 - 13:39

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Hello,
Could you help me this?
"Can Africa be saved?", the journalist asked
"Did they flow to Norway yesterday?" Susan asked me.