What is a Reported Speech?

In English, we can use either direct or reported speech to inform someone what another person said. Changing a direct speech into a reported speech and vice versa is pretty straightforward. You just need to follow certain rules. That said, ESL learners often find this topic difficult and confusing.

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Reported Speech (Indirect Speech)

Reported speech is also known as indirect speech. In this type of speech, we express statements, questions, and imperatives without quoting them explicitly. Reported speech can be found in dialogs both in oral or written form.

Reported Speech – Statements

In reported speech statements, the time/place expressions, tenses, and pronouns may differ from the original sentences. Here are some examples:

  • Direct speech: Mike said, I’m going to visit Paris tomorrow.”
  • Reported speech: Mike said that he’s going to visit Paris the next day.

In the example above, not only we change the pronoun, but we also change the time expression.

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Here’s another example:

  • Jimmy said, “This pizza is great.”
  • Jimmy said that the pizza was great.

Here, we switch the tense from simple present to simple past. Any other tenses adhere to the following rules:

  1. Present simple ->Past simple
  2. Present continuous -> Past continuous
  3. Present perfect -> Past perfect
  4. Past simple -> Past perfect
  5. Past continuous -> Past perfect continuous

Do note that changing the tenses is not necessary if the fact stated in the original sentence is still true in the present.

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Example:

  • Jan said, “Mrs. Clarke is beautiful.”
  • Jan said that Mrs. Clarke is beautiful.

You also don’t need to backshift the tenses if the statements are in the present. Example:

  • Alita says, “I love breakfast.”
  • Alita says that she loves breakfast.

Another thing to note is you can often discard “that” altogether when writing reported speech statements.

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Example:

  • Jan said that Mrs. Clarke is beautiful.
  • Jan said Mrs. Clarke is beautiful.

Reported Speech – Questions

For yes/no questions we only need to use “ask”, “if/whether ”, and rid of the question tag like the examples shown below.

  • Mom asked, “Do you like the cake?”
  • Mom asked me if I like the cake.

Any questions using the question words (what, why, when, who, where, and how) do not use “if/whether”. We just need to transform the question into an indirect one.

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Example:

  • The customer asked, “How are you?”
  • The customer asked me how I was.

Be sure to change the time/place expressions, tenses, and pronouns as necessary.

Reported Speech – Imperatives

Changing an imperative sentence into a reported speech is simple since we don’t need to do any backshift on the tenses. We just need to use “to/not to + verb”.

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Example:

  • The teacher said to Randy, “Please close the door.”
  • The teacher asked Randy to close the door.
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