Reported speech

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Reported speech

imagesReported speech or indirect speech is a tricky part of English learning because there are many things to think about, and it gets used a lot so there’s no way to avoid it. Even if you do try to avoid it, you will hear people using it and if you don’t understand how it works it could change the meaning of what people are saying.

All of this might seem like a lot of information, and it is! But it is easy once you put it into practice it. In our classes we don’t spend too much time going through the rules so you can start using reported speech as soon as possible in a natural way without having to think about all the rules and exceptions, you can use it the way a native speaker does!


What is reported speech?

Reported speech is a way of retelling what someone has said. There are 3 ways of doing it:

  • direct quote: John said: ‘I am very tired from work’. In a quote you repeat the exact words someone said.
  • paraphrase: John told me his job is making him tired. In a paraphrase you keep the meaning but you change the words.
  • reported speech: John said he was very tired from work. In reported speech you keep the same words but make some grammatical changes so the sentence makes sense.


What changes in reported speech?

Mostly 3 things change when reporting what someone said:

  • people
  • places
  • times

Those have to be changed so that the sentence still makes sense even if you are talking to a different person, in a different place and at a different time.

For example you can be in Canada on September. In that case where is Canada (here) and when is September (now). But if you later report the conversation in England on December the where is not Canada (there) anymore, it’s England (the new here). And the time is not September (then) anymore, it’s December (the new now).


Changes in people

People can be referred by name (John) or by pronoun (I, you, he…).

Changing people in reported speech is the hardest thing to do. You will find many tables and rules in books and on websites. But you can’t simply follow rules, you need to pay attention to the people you are now talking to. Here is an example in direct and reported speech.

  • Direct speech: – John: Peter is in Canada
  • Someone reporting to Peter: John said you were in Canada
  • Someone reporting to someone else who is not Peter: John said Peter was in Canada or John said he was in Canada.
  • Peter reporting to someone: John said I was in Canada.

So Peter can stay the same or change depending on who is reporting and who they are reporting to.


talk-157724_960_720Changes in place

Places are a lot easier. Most times you will be reporting things in a different place so you can use there instead of here/there, and that/those instead of this/these/that/those. If you are in the same place, then you can keep the place reference. And names of places can be kept without change (Canada is always Canada).


Changes in time expressions

Time expressions will almost always change. Exact dates (such as November 5th) can be kept, but references to time (like then or tomorrow) need to be changed. A different expression can be used or the exact date referred to. Here is a table to help you with the changes:





in two/three days/months/years

next week/month/year



two/three days/months/years ago

last week/month/year

then, at that time, at the time, at 10 am, October 10th

that day, October 10th


the following day, the next day, a day later, October 10th

two/three days/months/years from then, in October/2016

the following week/month/year, the next week/month/year, a week/month/year later, in October/2019


the previous day, the day before, October 10th

two/three days/months/years before, two/three days/months/years earlier, in October/2016

the week/month/year before, the previous week/month/year, the preceding week/month/year, in October/2019



Changes in tenses

Because time changes tenses need to be changed. This is the easiest change that happens in reported speech because there are almost no exceptions, but you do need to remember how to change each tense. The general rule is that they get taken back one tense into the past. Our previous tense article can help you understand what that means.

If what is being reported is a fact or is still a future event, then the tense remains the same.

Here is a table to help you with all other changes:

simple present

present continuous

present perfect

present perfect continuous


simple past

past perfect

past continuous


simple future (will)

future continuous (will +ing)

am/is/are going to








simple past

past continuous

past perfect

past perfect continuous


past perfect

no change

past perfect continuous


conditional (would)

continuous conditional (would +ing)

was/were going to




had to

no change