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Reported speech

Reported speech is the act of quoting what someone else said. There are two main ways you can quote what another person has said:

  1. You can use ‘direct speech’ which is the act of copying exactly what someone else said, and if, in writing, you would need to use quotation marks.
  2. We also have reported speech, or as it’s otherwise known indirect speech.

What happens in reported speech?

When you use reported speech or indirect speech, you need to change several elements of the sentence.

So, such elements that need to be changed within the sentence are pronouns and most importantly the verb tenses, which are governed by rules, all of which we will delve into below.

Examples of direct speech and reported speech (indirect speech)

  • Direct speech: ”I like going to the park”.  Reporter: She said ”I like going to the park”. 
  • Reported speech: ”I like going to the park”. Reporter: ”She said, (that) she liked going to the park”. 

So, in the first example using ‘direct speech‘, the sentence goes as follows, ”I like going to the park”. This sentence had been reported directly, with no changes, hence the term, ‘direct speech’.

In the second example using reported speech, “I like going to the park”, had been reported indirectly: ”She said, she liked going to the park”.

Therefore, to use reported speech, we had to make changes to the new sentence which was reporting.

For instance: the pronouns, and the grammar — present to past because the reporter of the speech is now speaking in the present moment; a verb change is necessary.

English courses

Rules for using reported speech

Verb tense
Direct Speech
Reported Speech
present simpleI like to play sports.past simple

She said (that) she liked to play sports. 

present continuousI am doing my exam.past continuous

He said (that) he was doing his exam. 

past simpleI cleaned my room. past perfect simple

She said (that) she had cleaned his room. 

past continuousI was playing my video game. past perfect continuous

He said (that) he had been playing his video game. 

present perfectI haven’t been to the park. past perfect

She said (that) she hadn’t been to the park. 

past perfectI had seen that guy before Wednesday. past perfect

She said (that) she hadn’t seen that guy before Wednesday. 

present perfect continuousI have been living in Spain for two years. past perfect continuous

She said (that) she had been living in Spain for two years. 

future simpleI will go to the market. conditional (would)

She said (that) she would go to the market. 

conditionalHe wouldn’t go to the concert. conditional (would)

He said (that) he wouldn’t go to the concert. 

ought to I ought to buy a phone.ought to

She said she ought to buy a phone. 

mayI may come tonight. could/would

He said he would/could come tonight. 

needI need to get a new cup.must/had to

He said (that) he must get a new cup/ he said that he had to get a new cup. 

canI can speak Spanish. could

She said (that) she could speak Spanish.

couldI could dance when I was younger. could

She said (that) she could dance when she was younger.

shallThey shall not come this evening. would

He said (that) they would’t come this/that evening.

shouldI should buy a new phone.should

She said (that) she should buy a new phone. 

mightI might arrive late today. might

She said (that) she might arrive late today/yesterday/the other day. 

mustI must go to the mall. must

She said (that) she must go to the mall. 

Importantly, this is a complete list of all active verb forms and modal auxiliaries with their respective forms that work in reported speech. Also, it is worth mentioning that time expressions or references to time can change. For example,

  • ”I cleaned my room yesterday” = He said (that) he had cleaned his room (yesterday/the other day/Tuesday/Friday/ two weeks ago).

The time reference will depend completely on the situation and point in time, this is subjective to the reporter.

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