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

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Language level

Submitted by GiulianaAndy on Sat, 14/08/2021 - 20:04

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Hello, thanks a lot for the lesson. Excuse me, I have an issue with the preposition "that" because in some cases I've seen this preposition after the phrase "He said". I mean "He said that......" In reported speech and sometimes not; I was wondering in which situations may I used the preposition "that" after the phrases " He told me" and "He said" ?and I would like to know if the use of the preposition "that" would change the meaning of the sentence in reported speech, please Thank you :)

Hello GiulianaAndy,

Used in reported speech, 'that' is a conjunction rather than a preposition. In this use (reported speech) it does not change the maning and can be omitted.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Help me please change this sentence into reported speech.
Roy's mother said: "I am glad my son is a musician."
Which is right "Roy's mother said she was glad her son was a musician"or "Roy's mother said she is glad her son is a musician" ?

Hello K.kh,

Both forms are possible. If you keep the verb in the present tense ('...is a musician') then you are making it clear that the son is still a musician now.
If you move the verb back into the past tense ('...was a musician') then we do not know if the son is still a musician; we know only that he was a musician when his mother spoke.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Bahri amal on Wed, 24/03/2021 - 02:37

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This explanation is so good for me, It really helped me to understand the topic

Submitted by sisi on Fri, 19/02/2021 - 17:28

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Hello, can you tell me why in the last question the answer is before and not ago? Thanks

Hello sisi,

This is explained in the last part of the grammar explanation:

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.

This is because the direct speech sentence was spoken a week ago. If the reported speech sentence said 'ago', it would refer to a time after the time the direct speech was said.

For example, if today is 21 February, the direct speech sentence was said on 14 February. If the reported speech sentence said 'ago', it would refer to 18 February instead of 11 February.

Does that make sense?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by BobMux on Thu, 11/02/2021 - 15:30

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Hello The LearnEnglish Team, I would appreciate it if you could help me report these words below, i mean, how do we report imagined conditional sentences? John said" if my mom was alive, how proud she would have been"

Hi BobMux,

I'd probably say this:

  • John wondered how proud his mom would have been, if she had been alive.

The reporting verb wonder shows John's imagining well here. The past simple verb (was) is backshifted to the past perfect (had been). 

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Stellaaa on Tue, 22/12/2020 - 01:27

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Hello Sir told us that if you want to know something just mention him,then he will answer us Is that correct?

Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 22/12/2020 - 09:20

In reply to by Stellaaa

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Hello Stellaaa,

That's almost correct. You should say 'mention it to him':

Sir told us that if you want to know something just mention it to him, and he will answer us.

Obviously, we can't see the context in which you are using this, but I think this is what you intend.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Timothy555 on Thu, 03/12/2020 - 13:08

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Hi! You mentioned that "The past perfect doesn't change". Is this referring to the past perfect simple tense? What about the past perfect continuous tense? Thanks!

Submitted by Peter M. on Fri, 04/12/2020 - 08:06

In reply to by Timothy555

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Hi Tim,

This refers to both simple and continuous forms. If the original sentence (direct speech) contains a past perfect form, simple or continuous, it does not change when reported. 

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Sebastian Parada on Tue, 24/11/2020 - 00:28

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I ran into these type of sentences. I'm trying to understand how I'd change them into Reported speech: "I like the new teacher, he is intelligent" do both parts of the sentence change into the past or just the first one? "Don't stop, we can win this race" Same question here

Hello Sebastian,

When direct speech is reported we can shift the verb form back in time to show that we are talking about the time of speaking, or we can leave the verb form as it is if the information is still true at the time of reporting. Thus we often have a choice.

Direct speech: "I like the new teacher, he is intelligent."

Reported speech 1: She said she liked the new teacher, he was intelligent.

Reported speech 2: She said she liked the new teacher, he is intelligent.

The first reported speech sentence tells us that at the time when she spoke to us, the teacher was intelligent. It does not tell us anything about the present. The teacher may have changed in some way, or may have died.

The second version tells us that the teacher was intelligent at the time she spoke to us, and is still intelligent today.

As intelligence is a characteristic which is considered inherent and unchanging for the most part, unless the teacher has died there is no reason not to use the second version, and it would clarify any ambiguities regarding whether or not the teacher is still with us. However, grammatically speaking, both versions are correct.

 

Imperatives are usually reported using tell with an infinitive. As the second clause is not an imperative a second reporting structure is required or a linker of some kind:

Direct speech: "Don't stop, we can win this race"

Reported speech 1: He told us not to stop because/as/since we could win the race.

Reported speech 2: He told us not to stop. He said we could win the race.

Reported speech 3: He told us not to stop because/as/since we can win the race.

Reported speech 2: He told us not to stop. He said we can win the race.

It seems highly unlikely that the speaker is reporting this during the race (though not impossible, of course), so versions 1 and 2 would be more likely. However, if the race were still ongoing (imagine two teammates talking during the race) then versions 3 and 4 would be possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter,

I'm in confusion regarding how the imperative sentence "Don't stop, we can win the race" has been reported. If these words are uttered by any third person speaker, shouldn't we then change the pronoun 'we' to 'they'? Like for instance-- He told us not to stop as they could win the race. But if it is said by first person figure, then the one mentioned in the above reply is correct. The reported version of the speech should be then--I told not to stop as we could win the race. If I haven't been able to get the context considering which you changed the speech, please do let clarify.

With regards
Sandeep Mandal

Hello smandal973,

It really depends on the details of the context. We could have a situation in which there are many people involved, such as in a team sport. Then it would be possible to have someone who is part of the team but who was not the speaker.

Team member 1: "Don't stop, we can win the race."
Team member 2: "What did he say?"
Team member 3: "He told us..."

I was actually thinking about a team coach giving instructions to a team, but you could imagine all sorts of contexts which would give rise to different pronoun choices.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Via on Mon, 19/10/2020 - 22:38

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Hello team, I noticed that "had" is used although there was only a single event. e.g, 'We played tennis for our school,' said Alina. e.g, Alina told me they'd played tennis for their school. Does it valid to use "had" even with single event? Thanks a lot, my appreciations.

Hi Via,

Well spotted, and it is correct! Actually, there are two past events. The second event is the act of speaking (Alina told me). The past perfect event (they'd played tennis) happened earlier than that act of speaking.

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by emmanuelniyomugabo12 on Sat, 26/09/2020 - 05:49

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Hello, that's great to be with you at this moment, and on my side I take overlook to show you that I'm together with you.

Submitted by NataliaVarela on Wed, 23/09/2020 - 15:39

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Hi there! I am trying to practice reported speech with famous quotes from writers, presidents and so on. But honestly, I keep having problems to identify when to change the tense, since sometimes we don't do it because that can still be true. For example, if I want to report the following quote, how could that be? "Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will take you everywhere". Thanks

Hi NataliaVarela,

You are correct that we often have a choice when reporting what people said. Both of these are possible:

1. [Name] said that logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will take you everywhere.

2. [Name] said that logic would get you from A to Z; imagination would take you everywhere.

The first, as you say, tells us that the person reporting the statement believes that it is still true today; the second does not give any indication of this.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nicolettalee on Tue, 08/09/2020 - 13:16

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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

Submitted by Kim Hui-jeong on Mon, 17/08/2020 - 22:13

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

Submitted by Kim Hui-jeong on Sun, 16/08/2020 - 02:25

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(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

Submitted by Kim Hui-jeong on Sun, 16/08/2020 - 02:02

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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

Submitted by OwO on Fri, 07/08/2020 - 19:29

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Can you say: ‘she told him to go and to never come back again.’ As a reported speech?

Submitted by manu on Mon, 03/08/2020 - 21:05

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Indirect speech: 1) He said she had been writing when he had gone there. when we convert it into a direct speech,which of these is correct and which of these is he referring to? a) He said " she was writing when he went there", or b) He said " she had been writing when he went there". 2) Indirect speech: He said Everyday the train passed by while she was reading a newspaper. when we convert it into a direct speech,which of these is correct and which of these is he referring to? a) He said " Everyday, the train passed by while she was reading a newspaper ", or b) He said " Everyday, the train passes by while she is reading a newspaper "

Submitted by manu on Mon, 03/08/2020 - 00:42

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Ex 1) Direct speech: He said " We lived here for 5 years" Indirect speech : He told me that they had lived there for 5 years. Ex 2) Direct speech: He said " We have lived here for 5 years" Indirect speech: He told me that they had lived there for 5 years. The question is when someone reports in indirect speech both the above examples have "had". which one should I take now. Should I understand that he was referring to direct speech of Ex1 or Ex2.

Hello manu,

That depends on the context. Example 2 is what the speaker would say if they are still living in the place and example 1 is what they would say if they lived there in the past.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you Kirk, But how come I arrive at a conclusion when the indirect speech i.e, " They had lived there for 5 years" does not specifically say whether they once lived there or the have been still living there? Could you pls help me how a context helps us to arrive at a conclusion on what exactly one is referring to. Thank you

Hello manu,

Language is not always so precise. The indirect speech here is ambiguous -- it could refer to either one of the situations (they once lived there or they still live there). Only the context or your knowledge of the situation would tell you which one is meant. Or, of course, you could explain it with another sentence.

Hope that makes sense.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Karan Narang on Wed, 29/07/2020 - 15:32

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I merely learned from this lesson a new things. Indeed I use sequence of tense or I use what I have condition. Let see according to rule I am work out every day said karan. Karan said that he worked out every day. It is present tense to past tense. But can be made like it. Karan said he goes market. Karan said that he was going market. It doesn't make sequence but useful. Want your answer.

Hi Karan Narang,

Thanks for sharing your practice sentences. I can see you've been studying hard. Here are some comments.

1. The original sentence needs a correction. When you say 'I am work out every day', do you mean:

  • I am work out every day (present simple, meaning 'I usually do this')? or:
  • I am working out every day (present continuous, meaning 'I'm doing this now, but it's not usual for me – I don't usually work out every day')?

Both are correct but they have different meanings. The reported speech sentence is also different. For the first one, your sentence (using past simple) is correct. For the second one, the present continuous verb should change to past continuous (Karan said that he was working out ...)

2. Some correction is also needed. When you say 'he goes market', do you mean:

  • he goes to the market (present simple, meaning 'usually')? or:
  • he is going to the market (present continuous, meaning 'right now', or 'going to', meaning a future plan)?

For the first one, the reported speech version should use the past simple: Karan said that he went to the market. For the second one, your sentence is correct (but it should be: going to the market).

Does that make sense?

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Leila Bounar on Sat, 13/06/2020 - 02:00

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Hello ! please i want to know is it this sentence (she told me they like it here) true in indirect speech or we have to change the present simple to past simple ?

Hello Leila Bounar,

Both they like it here and they liked it here are grammatically possible.

It's not necessary to change the tense of the verb in reported speech if the situation is still true:

She told me they like it here - they liked it here when she spoke; they still like it here now

 

She told me they liked it here - they liked it here when she spoke; we don't know if they still like it here or not

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by wcyam10 on Tue, 05/05/2020 - 05:55

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Hi Kirk, In the following question, can b) be the answer ? We're meeting Tonight at 8 o'clock.' → She said that they ___ meeting Toni at 8 o'clock. I hope they're having a nice time! a.were meeting b.are meeting c.had been meeting thanks with regards

Hi wycam10,

Both answers /a/ and /b/ are possible here. The verb can be moved one step back (present > past) in reported speech, but as the statement is still true it is also possible to leave the verb in the present tense.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, thank you very much for your clear explanation.

Submitted by Bharati on Sat, 18/04/2020 - 12:26

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Dear Kirk, I will try to elaborate on the example sentence to seek your valuable clarifications. If the present(general) reality is that "He is not working hard"these days, then if the sentence is made like "His father felt that he is not working hard ".Here wouldnt the reported speech (subordinate clause) "that he is not working hard " refer to the past since the main clause verb(knew) refers to the past even though presently also "he is not working hard" Similarly, if the reported speech sentence is "His father will feel that he is not working hard" will the reported clause"that he is not working hard" not refer to future time in sync with the future time reference of main clause verb"will feel" even though presently also "he is not working hard". Your elaboration will indeed provide me with the much needed clarity. Warm regards