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Reported Speech

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What is reported speech?

Reported speech is the form we use to speak about what others tell us. Think about your day with other friends, co-workers and family. It's quite common to tell others what someone else has told you. Here are a few examples:

Jane: Mary told me she was going to the mall this afternoon to buy some clothes. She said she wanted to get a new dress and a few other things.
Peter: Oh, maybe she'll see John. He told me he needed to stop in at computer store to get something fixed.

In this conversation, both Jane and Peter report what their friends have told them about their days. Notice that we commonly use the verbs "say" and "tell" when using the reported speech. However, there are also other reporting verbs used in order to report conversations. Study the examples and rules below to learn how to use the reported speech in everyday conversations. Practice using this form with the reported speech worksheet that provides a quick review and exercise. There's also a reported speech quiz which provides immediate feedback on correct or incorrect answers. Teachers can use this guide on how to teach reported speech for help introducing the reported speech, as well as a reported speech lesson plan and other resources.

Reported speech refers to a sentence reporting what someone has said. It is almost always used in spoken English.

  • If the reporting verb (i.e. said) is in the past, the reported clause will be in a past form. This form is usually one step back into the past from the original.

    For example:

    • He said the test was difficult.
    • She said she watched TV every day.
    • Jack said he came to school every day.
  • If simple present, present perfect or the future is used in the reporting verb (i.e. says) the tense is retained.

    For example:

    • He says the test is difficult.
    • She has said that she watches TV every day.
    • Jack will say that he comes to school every day.
  • If reporting a general truth the present tense will be retained.

    For example:

    The teacher said that phrasal verbs are very important.

Changing Pronouns and Time Expressions

When changing from direct speech to reported speech, it is often necessary to change the pronouns to match the subject of the sentence.

For example:

  • She said, "I want to bring my children." BECOMES She said she wanted to bring her children.
  • Jack said, "My wife went with me to the show." BECOMES Jack said his wife had gone with him to the show.

It is also important to change time expressions when referring to present, past or future time to match the moment of speaking.

For example:

  • She said, "I want to bring my children tomorrow." BECOMES She said she wanted to bring her children the next day.
  • Jack said, "My wife went with me to the show yesterday." BECOMES Jack said his wife had gone with him to the show the day before.

Reported Questions

When reporting questions, it is especially important to pay attention to sentence order. When reporting yes/ no questions connect the reported question using 'if'. When reporting questions using question words (why, where, when, etc.) use the question word.

For example:

  • She asked, "Do you want to come with me?" BECOMES She asked me if I wanted to come with her.
  • Dave asked, "Where did you go last weekend?" BECOMES Dave asked me where I had gone the previous weekend.
  • He asked, "Why are you studying English?" BECOMES She asked me why I was studying English.

The following chart includes sentences changed from quoted speech to reported speech using a past form. NoteSimple past, present perfect, and past perfect allchange to past perfect in the reported form.

Common Reported Speech Transformations

He said, "I live in Paris." He said he lived in Paris.
He said, "I am cooking dinner." He said he was cooking dinner.
He said, "I have visited London twice." He said he had visited London twice.
He said, "I went to New York last week." He said he had gone to New York the week before.
He said, "I had already eaten." He said he had already eaten.
He said, "I am going to find a new job." He said he was going to find a new job.
He said, "I will give Jack a call." He said he would give Jack a call.

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