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Reported Speech

Page history last edited by Béatrice H. Alves 14 years, 5 months ago







When we talk about things that other people have said, when we want to refer to previous meetings, when we want to report what we’ve heard, we need to use the reported speech.



‘Many times a day I realize how much my own life is built on the labors of my fellowmen,

and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.’ Albert Einstein

(This is direct speech)



Albert Einstein said that


many times a day he realized how much his own life was built on the labors of his fellowmen,

and how earnestly he had to exert himself in order to give in return as much as he had received.

(This is reported speech.)




. the reporting verb: Albert Einstein said….

. the change in personal pronouns and adjectives: he realized…. his own life…. exert himself

. the change in verb tenses: he realized….. was built…. he had to… he had received


Take a look at all the details below.


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The Reporting Verbs


The reporting verbs describe the communication between people (say, tell, instruct, persuade, remind, etc), ways of thinking (think, understand, hope, suppose, etc.), ways of questioning (ask, wonder, doubt, etc.)



Here are the most common ones classified according to what follows them:




ALWAYS followed by
a noun or pronoun


I assured John (that) he could make it.


He told me (that) I could make it.

advise, assure, convince, inform, invite, notify, persuade, remind, tell*


followed by
a noun or pronoun


She believed (that) I could make it.


We noticed (that) I could make it.

accept, answer, assume, believe, claim, deny, discover, doubt, expect, feel, find, forget, guarantee, hope, imply, know, notice, observe, see, specify, suppose, think, understand, wonder


followed by
a noun or pronoun


They showed (us) (that) we could make it.


I promised (my boss) (that) I could make it.

ask, offer, show, promise, teach, threaten, urge, warn


followed by
noun or pronoun


I admitted (to them) (that) I could make it.


He mentioned (to Albert) (that) I could make it.


acknowledge, admit, announce, complain, confess, declare, demonstrate, explain, indicate, mention, point out, propose, prove, remark, report, say*, signal, state, suggest

·       * Notice the difference in construction between say and tell.

I say something (to someone)   but   I tell someone something.

        More on this difference here.


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The changes in Personal Pronouns and Adjectives


Pronouns (I, me, myself, etc.) and possessive adjectives (my, your, etc.) often change in reported speech.



Direct speech

Sue said, I am on holiday with my friend’.

Reported speech

Sue said (that) she was on holiday with her friend.


When we talk about Sue, we say she, not I, and when we talk about Sue’s friend, we say her friend, not my friend.


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The changes in Time and Place Expression


People use words like here, now, today to talk about the place where they are speaking and the time they are speaking. If we report these words in a different place or at a different time, they often change.




Direct speech

I’m here on vacation but I am leaving tomorrow.

Reported speech

She told me on Monday that she was there on vacation
but she was leaving the following day.



The way these words change depends on the situation.

For example, if someone was speaking yesterday and they said ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’, we could now say He said he would see me today.



The most common changes are the following:

here                    there

this                     that / the

now                    then

today                  that day

tonight                that night

tomorrow            the next day / the following day / the day after

yesterday            the day before / the previous day

next Monday       the following Monday

last Monday        the previous Monday



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The changes in Verb Tenses


When we use a past reporting verb (e.g. Annie said), the tense in reported speech normally changes (e.g. I am changes to the past: she was). But when we use a present reporting verb (e.g. Annie says), the tense does not change (e.g. I am stays in the present: she is).


The newspaper said that the plane had had a soft landing, but a landing with gear up is never soft.

When a small plane is lost, the news always says that the pilot didn’t file a flight plan but they never say that pilots of light planes often don’t file a flight plan.



When the reporting verb is in the past, the tense in reported speech normally ‘moves back’. (for the tenses, see the frame here).

When there is no past form (e.g. could has no past), or when reporting something that is still true, the shift in tenses doesn’t happen.


In other words:





I am going home.

He said he was going home.

I want to stop.

He said he wanted to stop.

I don’t wear goggles.

He said he didn’t wear goggles.

I have finished my report.

He said he had finished his report.

I spoke to the manager.

He said he had spoken to the manager.

I didn’t see the suppliers.

He said he hadn’t seen the suppliers.

I can do it.

He said he could do it.

I will land at 5:15.

He said he would land at 5:15.

I may be delayed.

He said he might be delayed.

I must hurry up.

He said he had to hurry up.


I had filed the plan.

He said he had filed a plan.

I could be right.

He said he could be right.

I should check this.

He said he should check that.

Brasilia is the capital.

He said Brasilia is the capital.



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The changes in Orders and Questions


When reporting orders and instructions that were given in the imperative, the shift is to the infinitive.



Go to the workshop.

He told me to go to the workshop.

Don’t forget the deadline.

He told me not to forget the deadline.

Contact ground control.

He told me to contact ground control.

Don’t take runway 06.

He told me not to take runway 06.



When reporting a question, the same rules apply for the change in tenses but we must also consider a change in pattern. We’re not asking a direct question, so we don’t want the interrogative form. Eventually, we need to insert if or whether to report yes/no questions.





Is it dangerous?

He asked if it was dangerous.

Do you work for quality?

He asked me whether I worked for quality.

Did you plan this?

He asked me if I had planned that.

Will there be crosswind?

He asked me whether there would be crosswind.

Have you checked the tanks?

He asked me if I had checked the tanks.

Where can we land?

He asked me where we could land.

When were they delivered?

He asked me when they had been delivered.

Who invented the gear?

He asked me who had invented the gear.

What do you think of it?

He asked me what I thought of it.

Why should you go around?

He asked me why I should go around.

How much fuel do you have?

He asked me how much fuel I had.


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For more stuff on Reported Speech, go to Reported Speech Plus.

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