Reported Speech

Click here for a list of reported speech exercises.
Click here to download this explanation in PDF.

Reported Statements

When do we use reported speech? Sometimes someone says a sentence, for example "I'm going to the cinema tonight". Later, maybe we want to tell someone else what the first person said.

Watch my reported speech video:

Here's how it works:

We use a 'reporting verb' like 'say' or 'tell'. (Click here for more about using 'say' and 'tell'.) If this verb is in the present tense, it's easy. We just put 'she says' and then the sentence:

  • Direct speech: u00c2u0093I like ice creamu00c2u0094.
  • Reported speech: She says she likes ice cream.

We don't need to change the tense, though probably we do need to change the 'person' from 'I' to 'she', for example. We also may need to change words like 'my' and 'your'.

But, if the reporting verb is in the past tense, then usually we change the tenses in the reported speech:

  • Direct speech: u00c2u0093I like ice creamu00c2u0094.
  • Reported speech: She said she liked ice cream.
Tense Direct Speech Reported Speech
present simple u00c2u0093I like ice creamu00c2u0094 She said (that) she liked ice cream.
present continuous u00c2u0093I am living in Londonu00c2u0094 She said she was living in London.
past simple u00c2u0093I bought a caru00c2u0094 She said she had bought a car OR She said she bought a car.
past continuous u00c2u0093I was walking along the streetu00c2u0094 She said she had been walking along the street.
present perfect u00c2u0093I haven't seen Julieu00c2u0094 She said she hadn't seen Julie.
past perfect* u00c2u0093I had taken English lessons beforeu00c2u0094 She said she had taken English lessons before.
will u00c2u0093I'll see you lateru00c2u0094 She said she would see me later.
would* u00c2u0093I would help, but..u00c2u0094 She said she would help but...
can u00c2u0093I can speak perfect Englishu00c2u0094 She said she could speak perfect English.
could* u00c2u0093I could swim when I was fouru00c2u0094 She said she could swim when she was four.
shall u00c2u0093I shall come lateru00c2u0094 She said she would come later.
should* u00c2u0093I should call my motheru00c2u0094 She said she should call her mother
might* "I might be late" She said she might be late
must "I must study at the weekend" She said she must study at the weekend OR She said she had to study at the weekend

* doesn't change.

Occasionally, we don't need to change the present tense into the past if the information in direct speech is still true (but this is only for things which are general facts, and even then usually we like to change the tense):

  • Direct speech: u00c2u0093The sky is blueu00c2u0094.
  • Reported speech: She said that the sky is/was blue.

Click here for a mixed tense exercise about practise reported statements.
Click here for a list of all the reported speech exercises.

Reported Questions

So now you have no problem with making reported speech from positive and negative sentences. But how about questions?

  • Direct speech: "Where do you live?"
How can we make the reported speech here?

In fact, it's not so different from reported statements. The tense changes are the same, and we keep the question word. The very important thing though is that, once we tell the question to someone else, it isn't a question any more. So we need to change the grammar to a normal positive sentence. Confusing? Sorry, maybe this example will help:
  • Direct speech: "Where do you live?"
  • Reported speech: She asked me where I lived.
Do you see how I made it? The direct question is in the present simple tense. We make a present simple question with 'do' or 'does' so I need to take that away. Then I need to change the verb to the past simple.

Another example:
  • Direct speech: "where is Julie?"
  • Reported speech: She asked me where Julie was.
The direct question is the present simple of 'be'. We make the question form of the present simple of be by inverting (changing the position of)the subject and verb. So, we need to change them back before putting the verb into the past simple.

Here are some more examples:

Direct Question Reported Question
u00c2u0093Where is the Post Office, please?u00c2u0094 She asked me where the Post Office was.
u00c2u0093What are you doing?u00c2u0094 She asked me what I was doing.
u00c2u0093Who was that fantastic man?u00c2u0094 She asked me who that fantastic man had been.

So much for 'wh' questions. But, what if you need to report a 'yes / no' question? We don't have any question words to help us. Instead, we use
'if' :
  • Direct speech: "Do you like chocolate?"
  • Reported speech: She asked me if I liked chocolate.
No problem? Here are a few more examples:

Direct Question Reported Question
u00c2u0093Do you love me?u00c2u0094 He asked me if I loved him.
u00c2u0093Have you ever been to Mexico?u00c2u0094 She asked me if I had ever been to Mexico.
u00c2u0093Are you living here?u00c2u0094
She asked me if I was living here.

Click here to practise reported 'wh' questions.
Click here to practise reported 'yes / no' questions.

Reported Requests

There's more! What if someone asks you to do something (in a polite way)? For example:

  • Direct speech: "Close the window, please"
  • Or: "Could you close the window please?"
  • Or: "Would you mind closing the window please?"

All of these requests mean the same thing, so we don't need to report every word when we tell another person about it. We simply use 'ask me + to + infinitive':

  • Reported speech: She asked me to close the window.

Here are a few more examples:

Direct Request Reported Request
u00c2u0093Please help meu00c2u0094. She asked me to help her.
u00c2u0093Please don't smokeu00c2u0094. She asked me not to smoke.
u00c2u0093Could you bring my book tonight?u00c2u0094 She asked me to bring her book that night.
u00c2u0093Could you pass the milk, please?u00c2u0094 She asked me to pass the milk.
u00c2u0093Would you mind coming early tomorrow?u00c2u0094 She asked me to come early the next day.

To report a negative request, use 'not':

  • Direct speech: "Please don't be late."
  • Reported speech: She asked us not to be late.

Reported Orders

And finally, how about if someone doesn't ask so politely? We can call this an 'order' in English, when someone tells you very directly to do something. For example:

  • Direct speech: "Sit down!"

In fact, we make this into reported speech in the same way as a request. We just use 'tell' instead of 'ask':

  • Reported speech: She told me to sit down.
Direct Order Reported Order
u00c2u0093Go to bed!u00c2u0094 He told the child to go to bed.
u00c2u0093Don't worry!u00c2u0094 He told her not to worry.
u00c2u0093Be on time!u00c2u0094 He told me to be on time.
u00c2u0093Don't smoke!u00c2u0094 He told us not to smoke.

Time Expressions with Reported Speech

Sometimes when we change direct speech into reported speech we have to change time expressions too. We don't always have to do this, however. It depends on when we heard the direct speech and when we say the reported speech.

For example:

It's Monday. Julie says "I'm leaving today".

If I tell someone on Monday, I say "Julie said she was leaving today".
If I tell someone on Tuesday, I say "Julie said she was leaving yesterday".
If I tell someone on Wednesday, I say "Julie said she was leaving on Monday".
If I tell someone a month later, I say "Julie said she was leaving that day".

So, there's no easy conversion. You really have to think about when the direct speech was said.

Here's a table of some possible conversions:

now then / at that time
today yesterday / that day / Tuesday / the 27th of June
yesterday the day before yesterday / the day before / Wednesday / the 5th of December
last night the night before, Thursday night
last week the week before / the previous week
tomorrow today / the next day / the following day / Friday