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: 4.2 (139 votes)
Profile picture for user Tony_M

Submitted by Tony_M on Thu, 16/05/2024 - 23:54

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Hello,

Could you please tell me how I should backshift in the following sentences?

Direct:
Since my hair grew too long, I went to the hairdresser's last week. My stylist was in a very good mood, and she cracked a few jokes about me reminding her of a neighbor's dog that she often sees when she goes to work.
Reported:
Jenny said that since her hair had grown too long, she had gone to the hairdresser's the week before. Her stylist was (state, don't think it needs backshifting) in a very good mood, and she had cracked a few jokes about Jenny's hair reminding her of a neighbor's fluffy dog that she often sees when she goes to work ('sees' and 'goes' are still true).

Thank you

Hello Tony_M,

The only change I would suggest is 'cracked' instead of 'had cracked', which would make the sequence within the story (her good mood leading to her cracking jokes) clearer. 'Had cracked' is fine, but I think past simple is a better option.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,

Thank you very much.

Shouldn't we change 'had gone' to 'went' then?

Can we show that it's reported speech once at the beginning and then just use the past simple to stay within the story?

Jenny said that since her hair had grown too long, she went to the hairdresser's the week before. Her stylist was in a very good mood, and she cracked a few jokes about Jenny's hair reminding her of a neighbor's dog that she often sees when she goes to work.

Tony

Hello again Tony,

As you know, it's often a stylistic choice rather than a requirement to backshift into the past perfect. Here I think you could shift back but it's not necessary, especially as you have the time phrase 'the week before' to remove any ambiguity.

You could put all the verbs in the past perfect if you wish (had grown, had gone, had been, had cracked) but I think the passage reads much better with past simple forms after the initial had grown.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Profile picture for user Ahmed Imam

Submitted by Ahmed Imam on Wed, 17/04/2024 - 17:52

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Hello Team. If the reporting verb is in the present perfect, do we have to backshift the tenses of the direct speech or not?    For example: He has said, "I bought a car yesterday."    

1- He has said that he bought a car yesterday.

2- He has said that he had bought a car the previous day.

Thank you

Hello Ahmed Imam,

It's not necessary to backshift the verb form if the situation being reported is still true. For example:

"I'm a doctor"

She told me she is a doctor. [she was a doctor when she said it and she is still doctor now]

She told me she was a doctor. [she was a doctor when she said it and may or may not still be a doctor now]

 

The reporting verb in your example would be 'said' rather than 'has said' as we are talking about a particular moment in the past. For the other verb both 'bought' and 'had bought' are possible without any change in meaning. In fact, when the verb is past in the original sentence we usually do not shift the verb form back.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello again. Which one is correct? Why?

- He has said that he (will - would) travel to Cairo with his father.

Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

The present perfect is a present form, so generally 'will' is the correct form.

In this case, assuming that the man said 'I will travel to Cairo', then 'will' is the correct form. But if the man said 'I would travel to Cairo if I had time to do it', then 'would' would be the correct form since it is part of a conditional statement.

I think you were asking about the first situation (the general one), though. Does that make sense?

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Wen1996 on Mon, 08/04/2024 - 12:34

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Hi, 

Thank you for the information. It states that If what the speaker has said is still true or relevant, it's not always necessary to change the tense. I wonder if it is still correct to change the tense in this example: 'London is in the UK', he said. to He said London was in the UK. Or  it has to be the present tense.