Reported Speech

Reported Speech
If we report what another person has said, we usually do not use the speaker’s exact words (direct speech), but reported (indirect) speech. Therefore, you need to learn how to transform direct speech into reported speech. The structure is a little different depending on whether you want to transform a statement, question or request.

When transforming statements, check whether you have to change:

  • pronouns
  • present tense verbs (3rd person singular)
  • place and time expressions
  • tenses (backshift)

Backshift(rules 1)

you must change the tense if the introductory clause is in Simple Past (e. g. He said). This is called backshift.

He said, “I am happy.” – He said that he was happy.
Direct Speech Reported Speech
Simple Present Simple Past
Present Progressive Past Progressive
Simple Past Past Perfect Simple
Present Perfect Simple
Past Perfect Simple
Past Progressive Past Perfect Progressive
Present Perfect Progressive
Past Perfect Progressive
Future I (going to) was / were going to
Future I (will) Conditional I (would)
Conditional I (would)

The verbs could, should, would, might, must, needn’t, ought to, used to do not normally change.

He said, “She might be right.” – He said that she might be right.

No backshift(rules 2)

Do not change the tense if the introductory clause is in Simple Present (e. g. He says). Note, however, that you might have to change the form of the present tense verb (3rd person singular).

He says, “I speak English.” – He says that he speaks English.

Questions in Reported Speech

For pronouns, tenses and place / time expressions see statements in reported speech.

Besides, note that instead of ‚that‘ you use the interrogative. If there is no interrogative, use ‚whether‘ / ‚if‘.

Direct Speech Reported Speech
statement He said: “She lives in London.“ He said that she lived in London
question with interrogative He asked:“Where does she live?“ He asked where she lived.

question Without winterrogative

He asked: “Does she live in London?“ He asked whether she lived in London.
He asked if she lived in London.

It is also important that you use an indirect question in reported speech, i.e. after the interrogative or ‚whether‘ / ‚if‘ you continue the sentence as if it were a statement (subject-verb etc.). The auxiliary verb ‚do‘ is not used in indirect questions.

He asked: “Where does she live?“ – He asked where she lived.

Requests in Reported Speech

For pronouns and place / time expressions see statements in reported speech. Tenses are not relevant for requests – simply use ‚to‘ + infinite verb.

She said, “Say hello to your mum.“ – She asked me to say hello to my mum.

For negative requests, use ‚not to‘ + infinite verb.

He said, “Don’t give up, Bob.“ – He advised Bob not to give up.

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