Reported Speech

When reporting speech, you can use direct speech – the exact words are between inverted commas:

He leaned towards her and whispered, ‘Be sure to lock your door tonight.’

The other option is that you use ‘indirect’ or ‘reported’ speech:

She said the operation had been a great success.

There are a number of common introductory verbs used to report statements, which are often followed by that (e.g. say, tell, add, continue, answer, reply, mention, remark):

For the third time that day, the minister replied that it was out of the question.


When we report another person’s words in indirect speech, we often have to change the pronouns used in the direct speech:

George added, ‘I really don’t understand the problem’.

George added that he really didn’t understand the problem.

Similarly, if the place or time of reporting is significantly different from that in the original speech, we often need to make changes to adverbs of place and time (e.g. now - then; here - there; today - that day; tomorrow - the next day; yesterday - the day before; last Monday - the last/previous Monday).

When we use indirect speech after a past tense reporting verb (e.g. said, had confirmed), we usually change the tense in the sentences we are reporting. We use a tense one step further in the past (‘backshift’), so present forms become past forms (e.g. present simple - past simple, present continuous - past continuous):

‘I’m leaving in ten minutes.’ - She decided she was leaving in ten minutes.

‘We’ve been living here for years.’ -  He revealed they’d been living there for years.

Past forms become past perfect forms (e.g. past simple or past perfect simple):

‘It rained really heavily today.’ - Sarah mentioned that it had rained really heavily that day.

The past perfect simple and continuous do not change:

‘They’d arrived an hour early.’ - I said they’d arrived an hour early.



The most common verbs for reporting questions are ask and want to know:

The assistant asked what type of printer we had, but I don’t know.

Laura wanted to know if anybody had reported the missing person.

We also use enquire for formal questions and wonder for ‘ask ourselves’:

The reception was boring and Andrzej wondered when he could leave.

We introduce indirect closed questions with if or whether:

Lester wondered if/whether there was anything better in life.

We can present alternatives in indirect questions with whether or not:

Deborah asked whether or not there was a lift in the apartment block.


Verbs used to report commands are tell, order, command and forbid (negative):

When the vet had finished, he told them to let the animal sleep.

He forbade us to pass on any of the information to the authorities.

We use ask for reporting requests, and beg or urge with urgent requests:

His secretary asked me to come back later.

In indirect commands we use a reporting verb and (not) to + infinitive:

Several members of the Royal Family urged Edward VIII not to abdicate.



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