notes: reported speech
Reported speech is often also called
indirect speech. When we use reported speech, we are usually talking
about the past (because obviously the person who spoke originally spoke
in the past). The verbs therefore usually have to be in the past too.
"I'm going to the cinema".
He said he was going to the cinema.
The tenses generally move backwards
in this way (the tense on the left changes to the tense on the right):
I'm a teacher.
He said he was a teacher
I'm having lunch with my parents.
He said he was having lunch with his parents.
I've been to France three times.
He said he had been to France three times.
I've been working very hard.
He said he had been working very hard.
I bought a new car.
He said he had bought a new car.
It was raining earlier.
He said it had been raining earlier.
The play had started when I arrived.
NO CHANGE POSSIBLE
I'd already been living in London for five years.
NO CHANGE POSSIBLE
Other verb forms also sometimes change:
I'll come and see you soon.
He said he would come and see me soon.
I can swim under water for two minutes.
He said he could swim under water for two minutes.
All tickets must be bought in advance.
He said that all tickets had to be bought in advance.
What shall we do about it?
He asked what we should do about it.
May I smoke?
He asked if he might smoke.
Things are slightly more complicated with imperatives.
He told me to shut up.
Don't do that again!
+ not + infinitive
He told me not to do it again.
Please give me some money.
He asked me to give him some money.
verbs don't follow the rules
The verb tenses do not always follow
the rules shown above. For example, if the reporting verb is in the
present tense, there is no change in the reported sentence. Also, a
sentence in direct speech in a present or future tense can remain the
same if what is said is still true or relevant. For example:
You've invited someone for dinner
at your house, and the phone rings. It's them! They say:
I'm sorry, but I think I'm going to be
a bit late. There's a lot of traffic.
After you finish speaking on the
phone, you say to someone else:
That was Juan. He said he thinks he's going
to be late because there's a lot of traffic.
A friend says to you:
María's ill. She's got chickenpox!
You say to someone else:
Laura said that María's ill. She's
However, the following day you
see María at the beach. You're surprised and say to her:
Laura said that you were ill. She said
you had chickenpox.
This has to change to the past
because it isn't true. María obviously isn't ill.
Direct statements in a past tense
do not always change either, because a change might alter the meaning
or just make it sound confusing. For example:
A friend is telling you about the
It started raining heavily when I left
This is where things get confusing:
He said it
had started raining heavily when he had left work (it sounds
horrible and the sentence is almost nothing but verbs).
He said it
had started raining heavily when he left work (is wrong
because it means it was already raining when he left work)
it started raining heavily when he left work (is the best
version because it is accurate, short, and there is no confusion
because of the time context)
Generally speaking, the past simple
and continuous don't always need to be changed if:
there is a time context which makes
there is another action already
using the past perfect, which might alter the meaning or make things
and place references
Time and place references often have
||the following day
the next day
the day after
||the following week
the next week
the week after
||the previous day
the day before
||the previous week
the week before
|2 weeks ago
||2 weeks previously
2 weeks before
||the previous Saturday
the Saturday before
||the following Saturday
the next Saturday
the Saturday after
I went to the theatre last
He said he had gone to the theatre the night before.
I'm having a party next
He said he was having a party the next weekend.
I'm staying here until next
He said he was staying there until the following week.
I came over from London 3
He said he had come over from London 3 years before.
You also need to be careful with
personal pronouns. They need to be changed according to the situation.
You need to know the context. For example, there is possible confusion
when you try to change reported speech to direct speech:
She said she'd
been waiting for hours.
(Is she one person or two different people?)
I told them
they would have to ask permission.
(Are we talking about two groups of people or only one?)
to exercises and pdf files
speech gapfill exercise - online
speech gapfill exercise - pdf file for download or printing
Reported speech reverse
transformation exercise - online
speech reverse transformation - pdf file for download or printing
Reported speech grammar
notes from this page - pdf file for download or printing
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