Reported Speech: Indirect Speech

There are two main types of reported speech: direct speech and indirect speech. In this lesson, we will learn about how to use indirect speech in English.

"Indirect Speech" in the English Grammar

what Is Indirect Speech?

In indirect speech, we report what someone said but do not use the actual words that the speaker uttered. The structure of indirect speech depends on whether it is:

  1. a statement
  2. a question
  3. a command or a request
  4. a suggestion, an advice, or a promise

Reporting and Reported Clauses

Reported speech always has two clauses:

  1. the reported clause
  2. the reporting clause

The actual spoken words are in the reported clause. The reported clause is a dependent clause.
The reporting clause which is the main clause contains a reporting verb.

Tip!

The reporting clause usually comes before the reported clause.

Elena told me that Luka is going to move out.

Elliot asked whether Bella was doing OK.

Indirect Speech: Statements

When we want to report statements in indirect speech, the main clause is linked to the reported clause by the word that.
reporting clause (main clause) + reported clause (that-clause)

Tip!

We often omit that, especially in informal situations.

"I'm 26," Kevin said. (direct speech) → Kevin said that he was 26. (indirect speech)

"My favorite food is Deep-Dish Pizza," Sophie said. (direct speech) → Sophie said (that) her favorite food was Deep-Dish Pizza. (indirect speech)

Indirect Speech: Questions

Yes/No Questions and Alternative Questions

Yes/No questions and alternative questions in indirect speech consist of:
a reporting clause + a reported clause that begins with if or whether.

The reported clause is not in question form, but in statement form (subject + verb).

Tip!

'If' is more common than 'whether.'

"Are you Russian, Eva?" Leilani asked. (Direct speech) → Leilani asked if Eva was Russian. (Indirect speech)

"Do you prefer coffee or tea?" Justin asked. (Direct speech) → Justin asked whether I preferred coffee or tea. (Indirect speech)

Wh-questions

When we want to report a wh-question in indirect speech we use a reporting clause, and a reported clause introduced with a wh-word (who, what, when, where, why, how). Do not use a question mark.

'What do you want?' → He asked me what I wanted. (Do not write: He asked me what I wanted?)

The reported clause is not in question form.

Vivian wanted to know who I had called. (Do not say: who had I called)

Wh-questions: Who, Whom, What

'Who,' 'whom' and 'what' can either be the subject or the object of the reported clause.

'Who locked the door?' Lydia asked. → Lydia asked who locked the door.

In this example, 'Who' is the subject of 'locked.'

'What will the computers cost?' he wondered. → He wondered what the computers would cost.

In this example, 'What' is the object of 'cost.'

Wh-questions: When, Where, Why, How

With 'when,' 'where,' 'why,' and 'how,' we also use declarative word order in indirect speech.

'When did you leave?' Hailey asked. → Hailey asked her when she had left. (Do not say: Hailey asked her when had she left?)

'Where is the bank?' I asked. → I asked her where the bank was. (Do not say: I asked her where was the bank?)

'How do you spell your name?' Julia asked Matteo. → Julia asked Matteo how he spelled his name. (Do Not Say: Julia asked Matteo how did he spell his name?)

using indirect speech to quote someone

Changes in Words in the Reported Speech

As you might have seen in the examples above, sometimes the words in the reported clause in indirect speech do not exactly match the words in direct speech.

'Come here!' she said. → She told him to go there.

Changes to Pronouns and Determiners

Because the speaker changes in indirect speech, pronouns and possessive determiners have to change, too.

'I love you,' Edward said. → Edward said that he loved her.

Changes to Adverbs and Demonstratives

Adverbs and adverbial phrases of place and time may also have to change in indirect speech.

'What are you doing here?' → He said what I was doing there.

Direct Speech Indirect Speech
this that
these those
now then
yesterday the day before
tomorrow the next/following day
two weeks ago two weeks before
here there

Backshift: Change in Tense in Reported Clauses

The most common change from direct speech to indirect speech is the change of tense.

'I could make you happy,' Mason said. → Mason said that he could have made her happy.

We can use a verb in the present tense as a reporting verb, for example when reporting a conversation. But it is more common to use a past tense when reporting speech.

Marcus says he'd be there in an hour.

In the table below, you can see the changes in tense in indirect speech:

Direct Speech Indirect Speech
present simple past simple
present continuous past continuous
present perfect simple past perfect simple
present perfect continuous past perfect continuous
past simple past perfect simple
past continuous past perfect continuous
future with will future-in-the-past (would)
past perfect past perfect (It does not change.)

Backshift: Modals

Some modal verbs shift back in time and change in indirect speech.

Direct Speech Indirect Speech
will would
shall would or should
can could
may might or could
must had to or no change
could no change
should no change
would no change
might no change
need no change
used to no change
ought to no change

'I will marry you,' Lily promised. → Lily promised she would marry him.

'I can make you some tea,' Joseph added. → Joseph added that he could make me some tea.

'We could buy a house by next year,' Nathan said. → Nathan said they could buy a house by next year.

Naomi said, 'You must try harder.' → Naomi said we had to try harder.

Indirect Speech: Commands and Requests

Commands and requests are reported with tell, ask, etc., and to-infinitive.

'Stop shouting!' Jasmine said. → Jasmine told him to stop shouting.

'Please don't make a mess while I'm gone,' Ashley said. → Ashley asked him not to make a mess while she's gone.

'Can you pass the salt, please?' → He asked for the salt.

Indirect Speech: Suggestions and Advice

We can use some verbs to report suggestions, advice, and similar types of discourse. For example:

'Let's go to the park.' Aaron said. → Aaron suggested going to the park.

'If I were you, I wouldn't call him,' Anna said. → Anna advised me not to call him.

Review

Reported indirect speech is usually used to talk about the past, so we normally change the tense of the words spoken. We use reporting verbs like 'say', 'tell', 'ask', and we may use the word 'that' to introduce the reported words. Remember inverted commas are not used. Also, if you are reporting a wh-question the indirect reported speech cannot be used in question forms and we put full stop at the end not question mark.

Since you change the words and tenses in indirect reported speech, we have gathered common changes and put them in the following tables. Look at the tables

Direct Speech Indirect Speech
this that
This is mine. She said that was hers.
these those
These schools belong to the government. They told that those schools belonged to the government.
now then
I am studying now. Anna said that she was studying then.
yesterday the day before
We would be gone yesterday. The said they would be gone the day before.
tomorrow the next/following day
Tomorrow is her birthday. I told that the following day was her birthday.
two weeks ago two weeks before
I played basketball about two weeks ago. She said that she had played basketball about two weeks before.
here there
Put this here! She asked to put that there!
Direct Speech Indirect speech
present simple past simple
He is a rich man. They said that he was a rich man.
present continuous past continuous
They are cooking sushi for dinner. He said that they were cooking sushi for dinner.
present perfect simple past perfect simple
Sara has been in Venice for three years. Janice told that Sara had been in Venice for three years.
present perfect continuous past perfect continuous
The book has been publishing for the third time. The book had been publishing for the third time.
past simple past perfect simple
My son ate the ice cream con. The woman said that her son had eaten the ice cream con.
past continuous past perfect continuous
They were standing in line to get the tickets. She said that they had been standing in line to get their tickets.
future with will future-in-the-past (would)
I myself will cook the turkey for Thanksgiving. She said that she herself would cook the turkey for Thanksgiving.
past perfect past perfect (It does not change.)
Marco had studied art at university. Elliot said that Marco had studied art at university.
Direct Speech Indirect Speech
will would
shall would or should
can could
may might or could
must had to or no change
could no change
should no change
would no change
might no change
need no change
used to no change
ought to no change

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