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 (121 votes)
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Submitted by Khangvo2812 on Sun, 14/01/2024 - 05:16

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Could you tell me why say is sometimes used in reported speech instead of said?

Hello Khangvo2812,

In general, it's used when it's something that people say not just in one specific situation, but in general. 

We also sometimes use the present simple to talk about the past when telling stories. You can read more about this on our Present simple page -- scroll down to the very end of the explanation, just after the Present simple 8 exercise.

If there's a specific sentence you want to ask about, please include it in your comment.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Khangvo2812 on Sun, 14/01/2024 - 05:14

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If I understand correctly, I cannot say she said she finished it two hours ago. Instead, I have to say she said she finished it two hours before?

Hello Khangvo2812,

Generally when we teach reported speech, we say that 'ago' in the direct speech should be changed to 'before' in the reported speech. This is because of what is commonly called 'backshifting', that is, the change in perspective from one time, such as the present, to another time, such as the past.

In terms of the sentence you ask about, the standard way of saying it is 'She said she had finished it two hours earlier' ('before' is also fine). This would be the correct form if you were telling me about a conversation you had with this person yesterday or sometime well before the moment of speaking.

If, however, you were reporting a conversation from a short while ago (in this case, since the sentence includes 'two hours ago', it would have to be very recent, probably within the last 30 minutes), they you could say 'She said she finished it two hours ago' and that would be correct. In this case 'two hours ago' would refer not back to the time of the conversation, but the time that this person was actually talking about.

I hope that makes sense.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Khangvo2812 on Sun, 14/01/2024 - 04:58

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Could I say my mom told me that I wouldn't need to get married if I could not find a right man for me?If I understand correctly, I don't need to change the tenses in a conditional sentence.

Hello Khangvo2812,

That's fine, yes. Are you sure the verb forms have not been changed here, however? It seems likely that the original sentence was this: You won't need to get married if you can't find the right man for yourself.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Khangvo2812 on Sat, 13/01/2024 - 15:54

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Could I say he said that he will be 10 minutes late, so let’s wait for him for 10 minutes?

Submitted by aru sha on Sun, 03/12/2023 - 11:03

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Hi. I had a doubt in these questions-
1. Convert it into indirect speech- Tamana said “Marcus is tall.”
2. Convert it into indirect speech- She said “You can move in immediately.”

Hi aru sha,

What do you think about it? We prefer to not simply give out answers, as we may be doing students' homework for them! But the information on the page above should be useful for these questions. Let us know what you think and we can guide you further.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team