Reported speech, also called indirect speech, is what happens when we are telling someone about what another person said.
Here is an example of direct and reported speech:
Direct speech: I don’t like this party.
Reported or indirect speech: He said (that) he didn’t like the party.
When changing direct speech into reported speech, there are four points to consider:
Reported speech point #1: changing pronouns
If the speaker uses a pronoun that does not work if reported by you, it needs to be changed. For example:
“I don’t like homework,” he said.
“My mum told me to study,” she said.
Reported or indirect speech
He said (that) he didn’t like homework.
She said (that) her mum told her to study.
Reported speech point #2: changing locations
A change of place between when the conversation was held and when it was reported may mean that the ‘place’ words need changing.
Direct speech > Reported or indirect speech
“I don’t like it here,“ he said. – reported from somewhere else – He said (that) he didn’t like it there.
“This party is boring,” he said. – reported from somewhere else – He said (that) the party was boring.
“My mum told me to come home,” she said. > She said (that) her mum told her to go home.
“You should spend the weekend here,” he said. > He said (that) I should spend the weekend there.
Reported speech point #3: changing timing
NOTE: imagine that the speech below is being reported one month later than the direct speech.
Direct speech >> Reported or indirect speech
“I met her this morning,” she said. >> She said (that) she had met her that morning.
“I can see you now,” the teacher said. >> The teacher said (that) he could see me then.
“I changed jobs a month ago,” John said. >> John said (that) he had changed jobs the month before.
“I’ll see you next week,” the doctor said. >> The doctor said (that) she would see me the following week.
“We’ll tell you tomorrow,” they said. >> They said (that) they would tell me the following / the next day.
Reported speech point #4: changing the tense
Often you will need to change the tense from the direct speech. The table below shows the common changes between tenses.
For more information on the tenses, see the main grammar menu.
Direct speech – Reported speech
Present simple changes to past simple: “It is lovely!” she said. – She said (that) it was lovely.
Present continuous changes to past continuous: “I am studying,” she said. – She said (that) she was studying.
Present perfect changes to past perfect: “I have finished,” she said. – She said (that) she had finished.
Present perfect continuous changes to past perfect continuous: “I’ve been cooking,” she said. – She said (that) she had been cooking.
Past simple changes to the past perfect: “I saw Jim at work,” she said. – She said (that) she had seen Jim at work.
Past perfect doesn’t change: “I had already missed the bus,” she said. – She said (that) she had already missed the bus.
Past perfect continuous doesn’t change: “I had been waiting for 10 minutes,” she said. – She said (that) she had been waiting for 10 minutes.
Will changes to would: “I will see you later,” she said. – She said (that) she would see me later.
Can changes to could: “I can help,” she said. – She said (that) she could help.
Must changes to had to: “I must go,” she said. – She said (that) she had to go.
Shall changes to should: “What shall we do today?” she said. – She asked what we should do that day.
May changes to might: “I may have a day off today,” she said. – She said (that) she might have a day off that day.
Additional notes about reported speech
1. Using ‘that’ in reported speech
When reporting speech, you can add ‘that’ to the sentence. However, if you use common reporting verbs like ‘say’ or ‘think’ it is not essential. For example:
Direct speech: “I will see you later,” she said.
Reported speech: She said she would see me later OR She said that she would see me later.
Note: with some verbs like ‘ reply’ or ‘shout’ you can’t drop the ‘that’.
e.g. She shouted that she would be there in a minute. NOT She shouted she would be there in a minute.
e.g. He replied that he was tired. NOT He replied he was tired.
2. Reporting questions in reported speech
When reporting a yes / no question (where the answer can be yes or no), the reported speech changes to use the word ‘if’ or ‘whether’. For example:
Direct speech: “Do you like coffee?” she said.
Reported speech: She asked me if I liked coffee. OR She asked me whether I liked coffee.
3. Different reporting verbs used in reported speech
‘Said’ is only one of the many reporting verbs.
To expand your vocabulary and make what you are saying more interesting, it is important to learn more reporting verbs. Here are some of the most common reporting verbs:
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Select the correct answer for the questions below.
Which of the sentences below is INCORRECT because it needs to use ‘that‘?
Is this reported speech correct? “Will you have time to meet me for coffee?” he asked. >> He asked me would I have time to meet him for coffee?CorrectIncorrect
Which of these sentences is incorrect?CorrectIncorrect
Which of these is NOT a reporting verb?