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
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
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?
Thank you, Jonathan.
I had doubts since I didn’t know if "He says he'll phone me the next day"
were grammatically correct.
Could you help me this?
"Can Africa be saved?", the journalist asked
"Did they flow to Norway yesterday?" Susan asked me.
We have a page all about this! Have a look at our Reported speech 2 - questions page (linked). I hope it helps!
The journalist asked whether Africa could be saved.
Susan asked me if they flowed to Norway the previous day/day before.
Hello british england learning team
We worked on your webside and it was very helpful.The comments from peter and kirk hepled me and motivate me to write this. I learned much on the webside and now i can use every grammar perfect
Hello I need your help im not shure it if is corret
C. Next sentences are John’s mother request to him, using reported speech report each sentence (5 pts. 1 each).
1. Get up early – she said that Jhon was get up early
2. Could you do the dishes? - she asked me to do the dishes
3. Don´t forget your umbrella - she said that not to forget my umbrella
4. Can you call your sister? - she said that john could call her sister
5. Turn the TV down - She asked that john was turn the tv down
This looks a lot like an exam! We're all teachers here and don't want to interfere with a class.
One thing to remember with putting commands in reported speech is that we often use the verb 'tell' + object + infinitive. For example, 'She told her daughter to do her homework'. I think that would be the best option in the sentences that are direct commands.
If you can assure us that this is not from an exam or homework, we can help you with this. I'd also encourage you to rewrite some of your answers using the 'tell' structure I mention.
All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team
Could you please help me with this?
'I like jazz music.'
'She said that she liked jazz music' - this is how we usually create the Reported Speech version for this kind of sentence (using backshift).
However, shouldn't it be 'She said she likes jazz music.' - since this is still relevant, right? Her preferences have not changed.
Thank you in advance!