Reported and Direct Speech

We often have to give information about what people say or think. In order to do this we can use direct speech, or indirect (reported) speech.

1. Direct Speech

Saying exactly what someone has said is called direct speech. Here what a person says appears within quotation marks ("...") and we should say it with the exact words that the person said.

  • He said, "Today’s lesson is on the past simple."
  • "Today’s lesson is on the past simple," he said.

2. Indirect Speech, Reported Speech

Indirect (reported speech), doesn’t use quotation marks to show what the person said and it doesn’t have to be the exact words as what the person said.

When reporting speech is used the tense usually has to be changed. This is because when we use reported speech, we are usually talking about a time in the past That is why verbs usually have to be in the past too

Direct speech Indirect speech
  • "I’m going to work", she said.
  • She said she was going to work.

3. Tense Change

As a rule when you report something someone has said you go back a tense.

Direct speech Indirect speech
Present simple
She said, "It’s hot."
Past simple
She said it was hot.
Present continuous
She said, "I’m walking in the park."
Past continuous
She said she was walking in the park.
Present perfect simple
She said, "I’ve been waiting since 10am."
Past perfect simple
She said she had been waiting since 10am.
Present perfect continuous
She said, "I’ve been teaching French for ten years."
Past perfect continuous
She said she had been teaching French for ten years.
Past simple
She said, "I went home late yesterday."
Past perfect
She said she had gone home late yesterday.
Past continuous
She said, "I was running earlier."
Past perfect continuous
She said she had been running earlier.
Past perfect
He said, "The train had already left when he arrived."
Past perfect
(NO CHANGE) He said the train had already left when he arrived.
Past perfect continuous
She said, "I’d already been studying for ten minutes."
Past perfect
(NO CHANGE) She said she’d already been studying for ten minutes.

Modal verb forms also sometimes change:

Direct speech Indirect speech
She said, "I’ll go home early today."
She said she would go home early today.
She said, "I can go home early today."
She said she could go home early today.
She said, "I must go home early today."
had to
She said she had to go home early today.
She said, "What shall we learn today?"
She asked what we should learn today.
She said, "May I open the window?"
She asked if she might open the window.

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

Direct speech Indirect speech
"I might go to play tennis later", he said. He said he might go to play tennis later.

4. Expression of time - time change

If the reported sentence contains an expression of time, you must change it so that it fits with the time of reporting.

Direct speech - today Indirect speech - after 24 hours
"Today’s lesson is on presentations." She said yesterday’s lesson was on presentations.
Expressions of time if reported on a different day
Direct speech Indirect speech
this (evening) that (evening)
today yesterday ...
these (days) those (days)
now then
last weekend the weekend before last / the previous weekend
next (week) the following (week)
tomorrow the next/following day

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).

Direct speech - at school Indirect speech - at home
"How long have you been teaching here?" She asked me how long I had been teaching there.

5. Pronoun Change

In reported speech, the pronoun often changes.

I He
"I work in a school." He said he worked in a school.

6. Reporting Verbs - „said“, „told“ and „asked“

We use asked to report questions.

  • I asked Kate what time the meeting started.

We use „told “with an object.

  • Kate told me she was hungry.
  • Note - Here me is the object.

We usually use „said“ without an object.

  • Kate said she was going to work now.

If „said“is used with an object we must use„to“.

  • Kate said to me that she had never been to London.
  • Here meis the object.

Note - We usually use „told“ rather than said.

  • Kate told me that she had never been to London.

There are many other verbs we can use apart from said, told and asked. For example: accused, admitted, advised, alleged, agreed, apologised, begged, boasted, complained, denied, explained, implied, invited, offered, ordered, promised, replied, suggested and thought.

  • He asked me to come to his birthday party.
  • He invited me to his birthday party.
  • He begged me to come to his birthday party.
  • He ordered me to come to his birthday party.
  • He advised me to come to his birthday party.
  • He suggested I should come to his birthday party.

7. The use of „that“ in reported speech.

In reported speech, the word that is often used.

  • He told me that he lived in France.

However, that is optional and does not have to be used.

  • He told me he lived in France.

That is never used in questions, instead we often use if.

  • He asked me if I could come to his birthday party.