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1. Reported speech

Reported speech is a structure that is used when we want to tell a person what another person has told us before.
I've composed a song.
She told me that she had composed a song.

2. When do we use reported speech?

When we want to express what someone has told us we have two options: direct speech or reported speech.

Direct speech Reported speech
In direct speech we will say the sentence word by word as we have been told. If we write it, the sentence will go in quotation marks. If we don't want to say the sentence literally as it was said, we will use the indirect speech, so the sentence will suffer certain changes.
I will never talk to you again!
"I will never talk to you again!" she said. She said that she would never talk to me again.

A sentence in reported speech will generally be introduced by a verb in the past. The most common are say and tell.

Say Tell
Say will be followed either directly by the sentence or by the particle that. Tell will be followed by an object pronoun (me, you, him...) and the sentence, which may be preceded or not by the particle that.
Mary: I will probably sell my flat!
Mary said (that) she would probably sell her flat. Mary told me (that) she would probably sell her flat.

We use reported speech for three different types of sentences: statements, questions and requests or commands.

3. Reported speech for statements

When we use reported speech, we take the verb tense of the original sentence as a reference and we move it one tense back. Now we will show a table with the original verb tense and its corresponding verb tense in reported speech.

Verb tense Original sentence Tense back Reported speech
Present simple I don't do sport. Past simple She told me that she didn't do sport.
Present continuous I'm correcting exams. Past continuous He said that he was correcting exams.
Past simple We gave a great performance. Past perfect They said that they had given a great performance.
Past continuous I was sleeping. Past perfect continuous He said that he had been sleeping.
Present perfect The lorry has overturned. Past perfect He told me that the lorry had overturned.
Past perfect I had already done this before. Past perfect She said that she had already done that before.
Will I'll call on you on my way home. Would She said that she would call on me on her way home.
Be + going to We're going to restore the tower. Was / were + going to They said they were going to restore the tower.
Must I must water the plants. Had to He said that he had to water the plants.
Can We can't fix the boiler. Could They said that they couldn't fix the boiler.
May I may go to work abroad. Might She told me that she might go to work abroad.
Migh1 I might get promoted. Might She said she might get promoted.
Could1 I couldn't finish the work. Could He said that he couldn't finish the work.
Should1 You should train harder. Should My coach told me that I should train harder.
Ought to1 You ought to apologize. Ought to My mum said that I ought to apologize.
Would1 I would love to see you again. Would She said she would love to see me again.

Modals could, should, ought to, would and might don't change when we turn them into reported speech.

4. Reported speech for questions

When we use reported speech to express a question we also move the verb tense of the original sentence one tense back as with the statements, but the sentence no longer has the structure of the question and takes the structure of a statement. The sentence in reported speech will be introduced by the verb ask.

A question can be preceded or not by a question word (who, when...)

With question word
Original question Reported speech
Miles: When did you send the files? Miles asked me when I had sent the files.
Without question word
Original question Reported speech
Jenny: Do you speak German? Jenny asked me if I spoke German.

The particle if can be replaced by the word whether.

Below there are a few examples in different verb tenses.

Verb tense Original question Tense back Reported Speech
Present To be Where are my books? Past To be He asked me where his books were.
Past To be Was Peter ill yesterday? Past perfect She asked me if Peter had been ill the previous day.
Present simple What time do you get up? Past simple He asked me what time I got up.
Past simple Where did you buy this hat? Past perfect He asked me where I had bought the hat.
Past continuous Were you listening to music? Past perfect continuous She asked me if I had been listening to music.
Present perfect Have you ever been to Greece? Past perfect They asked me if I had been to Greece.
Will How will you get to the station? Would She asked me how I would get to the station.
Be + going to Are you going to study Physics? Was/were + going to He asked me if I was going to study Physics.

5. Reported speech for requests and commands

When we use reported speech to express a request, the verb of the sentence in reported speech will be in infinitive preceded by the particle to, and will be introduced by the verb ask. The verb tell is used for commands. If the sentence is negative, we will place the particle not in front of the to.

Original request Reported speech
Could you help me with the dinner? My dad asked me to help him with the dinner.
Original command Reported speech
Don't open the presents yet. They told us not to open the presents yet.

6. Comments

There are a few things to keep in mind when using reported speech:

  • In cases where the original sentence is said in the first person (I/we) it will be necessary to change the subject pronouns, object pronouns and possessive adjectives:
    Liz: I'll give my old records to you.
    Liz told me she would give her old records to me.
    In this example we have changed the subject I to she, since in the original sentence Liz speaks in the first person, while in reported speech we talk about what she said, so we use the third person (she). We also replace the possessive my by her for the same reason. The object pronoun you is replaced by me, since I am the one who says the sentence.

     

    Mary: The swimming pool improved its facilities.
    Mary told me that the swimming pool had improved its facilities.
    In this example we don't change either the subject or the possessive, since in this case she doesn't speak about herself in the first person in the original sentence.
  • In spoken English, with the past simple and the continuous you don't tend to move the verb one tense back, that is, you don't change the verb tense:
    (direct) At six I was working.
    (indirect) He said that he was working at six.
  • We will also have to change certain particles and expressions of time:
    Other changes
    Here There
    Today That day
    Now Then
    Yesterday The day before
    The previous day
    The day before yesterday Two days before
    Ago Before
    Last week The week before
    The previous week
    Next year The following year
    Tomorrow The next day
    The following day
    This That
    These Those

7. Reported speech with reporting verbs

To introduce a sentence in reported speech, not only are the verbs ask, tell and say used, but other verbs can also be used (reporting verbs) and the way of building the sentence will vary according to them.

Below we show the different structures with some of the most common reporting verbs:

Structure Verbs Examples
Verb + to + infinitive Agree, threaten, promise, forget, refuse, decide... Direct: "I'm not going to accept your offer."
Indirect: "He refused to accept my offer."
Verb + object + to + infinitive Advise, invite, persuade, warn, order, encourage... Direct: "If I were you, I'd change your diet."
Indirect: She advised me to change my diet.
Verb + gerund Recommend, admit, consider, deny, suggest... Direct: "We could go to the cinema."
Indirect: He suggested going to the cinema.
Verb + object + preposition + gerund Accuse of, blame for, congratulate on... Direct: "It's your fault we missed the bus."
Indirect: She blamed me for missing the bus.
Verb + preposition + gerund Insist on, apologised for, confess to... Direct: "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to break your pencil."
Indirect: He apologised for breaking my pencil.

Some of these reporting verbs such as: decide, deny, suggest, insist, recommend... can also be followed by the particle that and a sentence.

Direct: "I'm going to have a new shower installed."
Indirect: He decided to / that he was going to have a new shower installed.

Remember!

Reported speech is a structure that is used when we want to tell a person what another has told us before.
  Verb tense Tense back Direct Indirect
Statements and questions Present simple Past simple Here There
Present continuous Past continuous Today That day
Past simple Past perfect Now Then
Past continuous Past perfect
continuous
Yesterday The day before
The previous day
Present perfect Past perfect The day before
yesterday
Two days before
Past perfect Past perfect Ago Before
Will Would Last week The week before
The previous week
Going to Was / were going to Next year The following year
Must Had to Tomorrow The next day
The following day
Can Could This That
May Might
Requests and Commands TO + INFINITIVE These Those

 

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