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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

Nivel de idioma

Intermediate: B1

Comments

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?

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

Thank you Kirk. That's very helpful :-)
Nicoletta

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

(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

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

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