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Last Updated October 25, 2021, 3:47 pm
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Reported speech

What is reported speech?

Reported speech is indirect speech, because we are telling someone what someone else said. The goal of indirect speech or reported speech is to tell someone what someone else has said without quoting them directly.

Occasionally we do quote people directly in speech, but because speech marks don't exist, we have to use our intonation to change our voice. We have to make those words sound different in some way. Sometimes we put ourselves into character a little to change our voice.
  1. She said "What" ?
  2. He said "What are you thinking of" ?

If you were to simply repeat the words, their will usually be problems with the words related to times and tenses. If someone says "I am busy today" and we report this later the same day, we could report "She said (that) she is busy today" without a problem, because is and today are still correct. BUT, if we wait for a few days and then report this, we have to change it to - "She said she was" [ busy that day / on Sunday ] "

The quotes are around our words, Not the original direct speech words actually said.

Now we will read through some examples where common time words are used. We have to focus on the meaning of the words. The first example is about the word now At first this seems quite simple, but we have to realise that 'now' can refer to this moment or the time from this moment onwards. Try to understand how this difference effects the reported speech word changes.

Now (meaning that moment )

Reported Speech =>

then or at that time
Example I "I'm leaving now."

She said that she was leaving then. ✓

She said that she was leaving at that time. ✓

I prefer not to contract "she saw" to "she's" , even though she's can mean "she was" or "she is". We need clarity in reported speech so I prefer "she was" to be uncontracted.

Now (meaning from now on = starting at that time and continuing )

Example II "You are my boss now."

If the situation is still true

She said that I am her boss now. ✓

She said that I am her boss from now now. ✓

If the situation is no longer true

She said that I was her boss then. ✓

But actually, I quite that soon after she said it

Today

Example

That day, yesterday , on Sunday

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Tonight

Example

That night, last night , on Sunday night

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Tomorrow

Example

The next day , the following day , on Sunday , today

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Yesterday

Example

The day before , the previous day , on Sunday

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Last Night

Example

The night before, the previous night, on Sunday night

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This Week

Example

That week, last week

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Last Month

Example

The month before , the previous month , in May

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Next Year

Example

The following year , in 2030

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Two minutes

Example

two minutes before

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When the report refers to something still true, the verb may not shift to the past: I've just talked to Barbara and she said she's taking it on Monday. (Barbara probably said, "I'm taking it on Monday.") He said he's going to do military service. (he probably said, "I'm going to do military service.") Why is Joanna angry? About what? You said she's angry about a party.

When the indirect report refers to the past, the tense in the reported clause usually has to change to a past form of the tense to keep the same time meaning as the original speech. This process is known as tense back shift.

Robert is part of a consortium, Mrs Johnson said to her. present simple Mrs Johnson told her that Robert was part of a consortium. past simple For some tense-aspect forms, there may be no change between direct and indirect speech. Examples of no change in tense

English Grammar - Reported speech statements

  1. Notice how facts which don't change have no tense shift. The present simple is used for frequent regular events and is used to speak about things that have happened recently and could happen today and may happen in the future. The present continuous is used to describe things happening now. Lets see what happens to these:
    1. "I like to read" >>> "Leon said that he likes to read (No shift)
    2. "I am reading a book >>> "Leon said that he was reading a book.
  2. If the sentence starts in the past, there is often a backshift of tenses in reported speech. (see: Note)

    Example: Susan: "I work in an office."
    Susan told me that she worked in an office.

Back shift of tenses

Some forms that don't need to change:

  1. Verbs already in the past perfect: We'd finished our work. - He said they had finished their work.
  2. The following modal verbs: could, might, ought, should, would: You should eat more. - She said I should eat more. I couldn't eat anything. - She said she couldn't eat anything.
  1. Simple present to Simple past
  2. Simple past to past perfect
  3. present perfect to past perfect
  4. will to would

Examples of backshift of tenses

Report Peter's speech using backshift of tense where necessary.

Practice

  1. "I work in the garden."
  2. "I worked in the garden."
  3. "I have worked in the garden."
  4. "I had worked in the garden."
  5. "I will work in the garden."
  6. "I can work in the garden."
  7. "I may work in the garden."
  8. "I would work in the garden."
  9. (could, might, should, ought to)
  10. Peter: "I'm working in the garden."
  11. "I was working in the garden."
  12. "I have been working in the garden."
  13. "I will go with you."
  14. "I am going to town next summer."
Show
If the sentence contains an expression of time, you must change it as well. EG: Peter: "I worked in the garden yesterday."
Peter said that he had worked in the garden the day before.

shifting of expressions of time

  1. This (evening) - that (evening)
  2. today/this day - that day
  3. these (days) - those (days)
  4. now - then
  5. (a week) ago - (a week) before
  6. last weekend - the weekend before / the previous weekend
  7. here - there
  8. next (week) - the following (week)
  9. tomorrow - the next/following day

Note: In some cases the backshift of tenses is not necessary, e.g. when statements are still true.

  1. John: "My brother is at Leipzig university."
  2. John said that his brother was at Leipzig university. or
  3. John said that his brother is at Leipzig university.
or
  1. Mandy: "The sun rises in the East."
  2. Mandy told me that the sun rose in the East. or
  3. Mandy told me that the sun rises in the East.

Reporting with the verb 'told'

We usually introduce Reported Speech with the verbs 'tell' (when there is a person or pronoun as an object) and 'say' (when here is no person/pronoun as a object). 'That' is optional.
"I'm leaving, Tom, " she said - She told Tom (that) she was leaving.
"I'm leaving," she said. - She said (that) she was leaving.

verbs reporting speech

Report these sentences using a suitable verb to replace "said" when appropriate. Some examples in the present tense. (You may need the past tense forms)
admit, advise, agree, apologise for, encourage, remind, insist (on), invite, offer, promised, persuade, deny, threaten, warn, ...

  1. I'll do it tomorrow, I really will.
  2. I'm terribly sorry. I've broken your glasses.
  3. Don't forget to buy the present.
  4. Yes, OK. It was me. I wrote the letter.
  5. Please come. You'll really enjoy it and I don't want to go on my own.
  6. I think you should phone him.
  7. Be careful! Don't touch it.
  8. If you don't keep quiet, I'll shoot.
  9. I'll help you carry it.
  10. Why don't we all go out for a drink.
  11. Would you like to see a film?
  12. OK, I'll do it.
  13. No, I won't help you.
  14. Go on! You can do it.
  15. It's definitely my case. It's got my name on it.
  16. It's a really good restaurant.
More reported speech
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