How and When to Use Reported Speech in English

What is reported speech and why do we use it?

There are two types of speech – direct and reported.

  • Direct speech – “I am leaving.”
  • Reported speech – She said she was leaving.

We use present tenses to form direct speech. For example: “I am going” or “I like this song.” (I am usually becomes the contraction I’m. For example: “I’m going.”)

We use reported speech when we want to repeat what someone has said. When we use it we need to use the past tense form of the verb (i.e. am becomes was).  

Tense table

Below is a table showing the tense, the direct speech and the reported speech.

TenseDirect SpeechReported Speech
past simple“I bought a bike”She said (that) she had bought a bike.
past continuous“I was walking along the street”She said (that) she had been walking along the street.
past perfect“I had taken English lessons before”She said (that) she had taken English lessons before.
present simple“I like chocolate”She said (that) she liked chocolate.
present continuous“I am living in Edinburgh”She said (that) she was living in Edinburgh.
present perfect“I haven’t seen Adam”She said (that) she hadn’t seen Adam.

Notes on tenses

  • Present tenses – You don’t always have to change the tense. If something is still true at the time of speaking then you can use the present simple:  “I work in Italy.”  =  He told me that he worked in Italy. OR He told me that he works in Italy.
  • Perfect tenses – The present perfect tense (have been) usually changes to the past perfect tense (had been).  

How do I make a reported question?

Making a reported question isn’t that different from making a reported statement. The tense changes are the same but we keep the question word. It’s important to note, however, that when we tell the question to someone, it’s not a question anymore.

In order to do this we need to change the grammar, for example:  

  • Direct speech: “Where do you live?”
  • Reported speech: He asked me where I lived.

Another example:

  • Direct speech: “Where is Louise?”
  • Reported speech: He asked me where Louise was.

In order to do this we change the verb into the past simple (‘is’ becomes ‘was’).    

How do I make a reported request?

  • Direct speech: “Close the door, please.” / “Would you close the door, please?” / “Could you close the door, please?”
  • Reported speech:  He asked me to close the door.  

To turn a request into a reported request you simply use the form:

asked + (not) to + infinitive  

Here’s another example:

  • Direct speech: “Please don’t smoke.”
  • Reported speech: He asked her not to smoke. 

How do I make a reported order?

  • Direct speech: “Sit down!”
  • Reported speech: She told me to sit down.  

We turn an order into reported speech the same way we do with a request. The only difference is we change ‘ask’ to ‘tell’.

told + (not) to + infinitive  

Here’s another example:

  • Direct speech: “Go to bed!”
  • Reported speech: He told me to go to bed.  

Now you know the difference between direct and reported speech. You also know how to make a reported question, request and order. So now’s the time to test yourself.  

Exercises

Complete the sentences in reported speech. For extra marks, write down whether the sentence is a question, a statement or a request.  

  1. He said, “I like this song.”

_______________________________________________________________  

  1. “Where is your brother?” she asked me.

_______________________________________________________________  

  1. “I don’t speak Chinese,” he said.

_______________________________________________________________  

  1. “Say hello to Miranda,” they said.

_______________________________________________________________  

  1. “The show began at five o’clock,” he said.

_______________________________________________________________  

  1. “Where are the keys?” she asked him.

_______________________________________________________________  

  1. “I don’t make mistakes,” he said.

_______________________________________________________________  

  1. “Does she know about Richard?” she wanted to know.

_______________________________________________________________  

  1. “Remain calm!” the nurse said.

_______________________________________________________________  

  1. “Don’t go into the woods,” my mother said.

_______________________________________________________________    

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This content was written and recorded by Intrepid English Teacher Thomas.

You can find out more about Thomas on his Intrepid English Teacher Profile Page.

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