When an English speaker wants to report
what someone else has said, then the speaker may choose to either
directly quote the person:
Maria said, "I will go home in the
use indirect speech (also referred to as
Maria said that she would go home in the
In addition to the punctuation differences
between the two reports, we see differences in the structure as well.
The purpose of this lesson is to examine what English speakers do to
change a quoted speech to reported speech.
One of the reasons why you may find
reported speech complicated is that native speakers do not always follow
the grammatical rules for producing reported speech. This may confuse
you, but do not get frustrated. Follow the grammar-book rules outlined
in this lesson and you will have no trouble changing direct speech to
reported speech and reported speech to direct speech.
Languages have two forms of speech: direct
and indirect. Direct speech is what one is actually saying, and indirect
speech is one saying what another has said. The latter is referred to as
reported speech. To report means to say what we saw or heard – to retell
what someone has already said, or what we have already experienced.
Communication would have been very difficult if we didn't have the
reported speech form. Can you imagine yourself talking in quotes all the
Let us look at this for a moment. Assume
that you are watching the President of the Unites States giving a speech
on television and saying, "We are in a better position today than we
were four years ago." Later, you want to tell a friend what you heard.
How would you do that? Well, think for a moment, you would be telling
your friend what the president had already said, right? You would be
reporting to your friend what you heard, ["We are in a better position
today than we were four years ago"] which are not your words, they are
the president's words—right? In this case, you would have to use the
reported speech form. You would then say, the president said that we
were in a better position today than we had been four years ago. Notice
the difference in verb form and tense. The president's exact words were,
"We are in a better position today than we were four years ago." Your
exact words would be, we were better today than we had been four years
ago. So, "we are" changed to "we were," and "we were" changed to "we had
been." "We are" is the present tense and is changed to "we were" which
is past tense. "We were" is past tense and is changed to "we had been"
which is past perfect tense.
It is then safe to say that in reported
speech we elevate the verb one step. This means that the present changes
to past and the past changes to past perfect. Now, we know the basic
rule. Once again, the main rule in reported speech is to elevate the
verb one tense higher.
Present ______________ to
____________________ past perfect
Forms of Reported Speech
There are several forms of reported speech
depending on the structure of the quoted speech. We will address these
forms individually. However, there are some general rules that you will
need to observe when reporting what someone said.
- In reported speech, you must delete
- You must identify all the verbs and
their tenses between the quotes.
- You need to move each verb tense one
tense higher, if possible; which means:
Present to past
Will to would
Must to had to
- You must not use question form in
- You must use the same questions words
used in the direct speech.
- You must use "if" or "whether" in the
case of "yes or no" questions.
Reported speech and verb
from quoted speech to reported
- He said, "I work hard."
He said that
he worked hard.
- He said, "I am working hard."
that he was working hard.
- He said, "I have worked hard."
said that he had worked hard.
- He said, "I worked hard."
that he had worked hard.
- He said, "I am going to work
He said that he was going to work hard.
- He said, "I will work hard."
that he would work hard.
- He said, "I can work hard."
that he could work hard.
- He said, "I may work hard."
that he might work hard.
- He said, "I have to work hard."
said that he had to work hard.
- He said, "I must work hard."
that he had to work hard.
- He said, "I should work hard."
said that he should work hard.
- He said, "I ought to work hard."
said that he ought to work hard.
Now let us analyze these sentences. Notice
that in direct speech, we have quotation marks, but in reported speech
there are no quotation marks. Also, notice that in reported speech we
always used "that" after "he said." Although this word "that" is not
essential, try to use it for now to help you remember the
What else have we noticed? Well, the verb
tense changes. Reported speech elevates the verb from the present to the
past and from the past to the past perfect.
Also, notice sentences number 9 and 10.
Reported speech uses the same tense: he said he had to. So, "have to"
will change to the past "had to" and "must" will also change to had
Also, notice that "should" and "ought to"
stayed the same in sentences numbers 11 and 12.
Remember, the more you practice this, the
better you will be at it. Just follow the structural rules and you will
have no problems.
Now let us observe this for a
Direct: Maria said to me, "I am
Reported: Maria told me that she was
What do you see that happened here? You are
right; "said to me" changed to "told me."
Notice that "told" is followed immediately
by a pronoun object.
(told me, told us, told her, told him, told
Juan, told someone)
Look at the following sentences:
- Juan said to me, "Are you
- Maria said to Juan, "Are you
- Sam said to Michael, "Do you speak
- Teresa said to her boyfriend, "Did you
- Martha said to John, "Have you watched
the movie Avalon?"
us now look at the way these yes or no questions change in reported
- Juan asked me if I was hungry.
- Maria asked Juan if he was
- Sam asked Michael if he spoke
- Teresa asked her boyfriend if he had
- Martha asked Juan if he had watched the
O.K., what do see happening here? Well,
"said to" changes to "asked" + the person or the pronoun; the reported
speech has the word "if," and the reported speech is not in question
So now we can infer the
Questions that would be answered by yes or
no must have the word "if" in the reported form. We can also infer that
reported speech must not be in a question form.
Now you try it. Change the following
sentences to reported speech:
- The teacher said to the students, "Did
you finish your homework?"
- The mother said to her children, "Have
you washed your hands?"
- My girlfriend said to me, "Do you speak
- The student said to the teacher, "Is
what I wrote correct?"
How did you do? Well, I am sure you did
well. Now compare your answers to mine.
- The teacher asked the students if they
had finished their homework.
- The mother asked her children if they
had washed their hands.
- My girlfriend asked me if I spoke
- The student asked the teacher if what
she had written was correct.
Do your answers match mine? How did you do
with number four? Did you notice that number four has two verbs, "wrote"
and "is?" So, in reported speech, "wrote" (which is past tense) changes
to "had written" (past perfect) and "is" (which is present) changes to
"was" (past tense).
How are we doing so