Reported Speech

Grammar – Reported Speech

When using reported speech, we often make changes to:   1) tense of the verb,  2) pronouns and   3) time adverbs.

1) Tense change

As a rule when you report something someone has said you go back a tense: (the tense on the left changes to the tense on the right):

Direct speech  Indirect speech 
Present simple
She said, “It’s cold.”
Past simple 
She said it was cold. 
Present continuous 
She said, “I’m teaching English online.” 
Past continuous 
She said she was teaching English online. 
Present perfect simple 
She said, “I’ve been on the web since 1999.”
Past perfect simple 
She said she had been on the web since 1999. 
Present perfect continuous 
She said, “I’ve been teaching English for seven years.”
Past perfect continuous 
She said she had been teaching English for seven years. 
Past simple 
She said, “I taught online yesterday.”
Past perfect 
She said she had taught online yesterday. 
Past continuous 
She said, “I was teaching earlier.” 
Past perfect continuous 
She said she had been teaching earlier. 
Past perfect 
She said, “The lesson had already started when he arrived.”
Past perfect 
NO CHANGE – She said the lesson had already started when he arrived.
Past perfect continuous
She said, “I’d already been teaching for five minutes.”
Past perfect continuous 
NO CHANGE – She said she’d already been teaching for five minutes.

Modal verb forms also sometimes change:

Direct speech  Indirect speech 
She said, “I’ll teach English online tomorrow.”
She said she would teach English online tomorrow. 
She said, “I can teach English online.” 
She said she could teach English online. 
She said, “I must have a computer to teach English online.”
had to 
She said she had to have a computer to teach English online. 
She said, “What shall we learn today?” 
She asked what we should learn today. 
She said, “May I open a new browser?”
She asked if she might open a new browser.

!Note – There is no change to; could, would, should, might and ought to.

Direct speech Indirect speech
“I might go to the cinema”, he said. He said he might go to the cinema.

You can use the present tense in reported speech if you want to say that something is still true i.e. my name has always been and will always be Lynne so:-

Direct speech Indirect speech
“My name is Lynne”, she said. She said her name was Lynne. 


She said her name is Lynne. 

You can also use the present tense if you are talking about a future event.

Direct speech (exact quote) Indirect speech (not exact)
“Next week’s lesson is on reported speech”, she said. She said next week’s lesson will be on reported speech.

2) Pronoun change

In reported speech, the pronoun often changes.

For example: 

Me You 
“I teach English online.” Direct Speech

She said, “I teach English online.”

“I teach English online”, she said.

Reported Speech

She said  she teaches English online.


She said she taught English online.

3) Time change / Time adverbs

If the reported sentence contains an expression of time, you must change it to fit in with the time of reporting.

For example we need to change words like here and yesterday if they have different meanings at the time and place of reporting.

Now + 24 hours – Indirect speech
“Today’s lesson is on presentations.” She said yesterday’s lesson was on presentations.


She said yesterday’s lesson would be on presentations.

Expressions of time if reported on a different day 
this (evening)  that (evening) 
today yesterday … 
these (days)  those (days) 
now  then 
(a week) ago  (a week) before 
last weekend  the weekend before last / the previous weekend 
here  there 
next (week)  the following (week) 
tomorrow  the next/following day 

In addition if you report something that someone said in a different place to where you heard it you must change the place (here) to the place (there).

For example:- 

At work At home
“How long have you worked here?”  She asked me how long I’d worked there.

Reporting verbs

The choice of reporting verb can change the meaning of a sentence.

E.g. The police officer ordered the man to hand over the bag

Compared to:

E.g. The police officer told the man to hand over the bag.

In the examples, the use of ‘ordered’ suggests greater urgency and emphasises the authority of the police officer, whereas the use of ‘told’ is more neutral.

Reporting verbs that:

  • Provide information: told, asked, informed, said

E.g. The librarian told him that his books were overdue.

  • State an imperative / a command, often suggesting urgency: ordered, insisted, demanded

E.g. The angry parent stormed into the school and demanded to see the principal immediately.

  • Provide an affirmative: confirmed

E.g.  The airline official confirmed that the flight was on schedule

  • Suggest an obligatory follow-up action: promised

E.g. After she threatened to send him to the principal’s office, the boy promised his teacher that he would do his homework.

  • Provide direction or guidance: directed, instructed

E.g. The master technician instructed the new employee on the correct usage of the machine.

  • Provide clarification: explained

E.g. The surgeon carefully explained to the medical students the details of the procedure she was going to perform.

  • Provide a measure of certainty and confidence: assured 

E.g. The online store assured all its customers that they would receive all their purchases in time for Christmas.


Online Exercises:


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