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Reported speech.

How to use reported speech in English, structure and explanations.

Table showing tense changes - direct to reported speech.

This table (right column) shows the verb tense or modal verb we use after we change from direct speech to reported speech.

Direct speech

Reported speech

present simple     >

past simple

present continuous     >

past continuous

present perfect simple     >

past perfect simple

present perfect continuous     >

past perfect continuous



past simple     >

past perfect simple

past continuous     >

past perfect continuous

past perfect simple    >

past perfect simple

past perfect continuous     >

past perfect continuous


Modal auxiliaries.

will     >


shall     >


can     >


could     >


would     >


must     >

must / had to

should     >


ought to     >

ought to

may     >


might     >


Learn more about the tenses and modals in this list...

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What is reported speech?

Reported speech is a structure used to repeat what somebody has said before (direct speech):

John: "My name is John" (direct speech)
He said (that*) his name was John (reported speech)

*that can be omitted.

Note that after the verb said, which is in past tense, it is natural to continue the rest of the sentence in the past: "...his name was John". This does not mean that John is now not his name; we use the past for agreement of the verbs in the sentence: said and was.

However, if John is still John, we cannot reject the present tense. So that...

He said that his name is John. also correct.

Let's consider a sentence said a week ago:

Mary: "I am going to Madrid."

If, a week later, we repeat what Mary said, we must now use the verb in past tense because the action cannot refer to the present but to seven days before:

Mary said that she was going to Madrid.

A tense one step further in the past.

We can see that I'm going in direct speech changes to I was going in reported speech. All tenses change to one step further in the past. In the above example, present continuous to past continuous.

In this next example, we can see how present perfect changes to past perfect:

Dave: I have seen that film.
Dave said that he had seen that film.

In the case where we can not go further into the past, we repeat the same tense:

Mike: I had been there.
He said that he had been there.       top arrow

Other words that change.

Let's now look at other words that can change in reported speech if we refer to past actions:

I'm going tomorrow.
He said he was going the next day (o "the following day").

I'm playing football next week.
He said he was playing football the following week.

I went last week.
He said he had gone the week before.

If we have also moved in space, in other words, we are not in the same place where the direct speech was said, words referring to place must also change:

I like it here.
He said that he liked it there.

Words that change in reported speech.

here     >


this     >


these     >


today     >

that day

tomorrow     >

the following day

yesterday     >

the day before

next week     >

the following week

last week     >

the week before

now     >


two days ago     >

two days before

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Reported speech and modal auxiliary verbs.

Modal auxiliary verbs, in some cases, have also got a past tense form which is used in reported speech:

I can speak English.
He said that he could speak English.

I'll see you next week.
She said that she would see him the following week.

See table above for full list of modals that change...

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Reported speech and closed questions.

Let's now consider this question:

Is your name John?

A question in reported speech that requires the answer yes or no (closed question) must include if. In other words, we want to know if the answer is yes or no:

She asked him if his name was John.

Open questions and inversion.

Open questions which do not require a yes or no, for example, questions with words like: what?, when?, why?, who?, which?, how?, whose?, where?, how much? , what time?, etc. usually take inversion between the subject and auxiliary (or verb to be) in direct speech but no inversion in reported speech:

What is your name?
She asked what his name was (and not, ...what was his name).

How much are the potatoes?
They asked how much the potatoes were (and not, much were the potatoes).

Where can we go?
He asked where they could go (and not, ...where could they go).

When did you see that film?
She asked when he had seen that film (and not, ...where had he seen that film).       top arrow

Reported speech and the imperative.

We will now look at sentences in the imperative. In these cases, it is common to use told + indirect object. Also note that the following verb is in the infinitive with to:

Go away!
She told him to go away.

Sit down and be quiet!
She told the child to sit down and (to) be quiet.

Please take these things into the kitchen.
She told him to take the things into the kitchen.

Exercises on reported speech...

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