We often have to give information about what people say or think. In order to do this, we can use direct or quoted speech or indirect or reported speech.
Saying exactly what someone has said is called direct speech (sometimes called quoted speech).
Here what a person says appears within quotation marks (“…”) and should be word for word (exactly as it was originally said).
She said, “Today’s lesson is on presentations.” Or “Today’s lesson is on presentations,” she said.
Indirect speech (sometimes called reported speech or Narration), doesn’t use quotation marks to enclose what the person said and it doesn’t have to be word for word. Thus, in indirect speech, we convey the speaker’s message in our own words.
When reporting speech the tense usually changes. This is because when we use reported speech, we are usually talking about a time in the past (because obviously, the person who spoke originally spoke in the past). The verbs therefore usually have to be in the past too.
Direct Speech: He said, “I’m going to the cinema”.
Indirect Speech: He said that he was going to the cinema.
Direct and Indirect Speech Rules
Reported Speech Tenses Change Chart
Below is a reported speech tense change chart with the rules for backshifting for each tense and for modal verbs.
Reported speech does not go back a tense if it is already in the past perfect (there is no further back it can go), and some modal verbs also do not change.
“I’m a teacher”
He said he was a teacher
“I’m having lunch with my parents”
He said he was having lunch with his parents.
present perfect simple
past perfect simple
“I’ve been to France three times”
He said he had been to France three times.
present perfect continuous
past perfect continuous
“I’ve been working very hard”
He said he had been working very hard.
“I bought a new car”
He said he had bought a new car.
past perfect continuous
“It was raining earlier”
He said it had been raining earlier.
past perfect (No change)
“The play had started when I arrived”
She said the play had started when she arrived
past perfect continuous
past perfect continuous (No change)
“I had already been living in London for five years”
Jack told me she had already been living in London for five years
Future Tense shall/will
Future in the Past should/would
Eli said, “I will buy the book tomorrow”
Eli said that she would buy the book tomorrow.
Other verb forms also sometimes change
“I will come and see you soon”
He said he would come and see me soon.
“I can swim under water for two minutes”
He said he could swim under water for two minutes.
“All tickets must be bought in advance”
He said that all tickets had to be bought in advance.
“What shall we do about it?”
He asked what we should do about it.
“May I smoke?”
He asked if he might smoke.
“You ought to come at 7 pm”
He told me I ought to come at 7 pm
“I should have helped you”
He said he should have helped me
“I would walk the dog at night”
She said she would walk the dog at night
“You culdn’t do it”
He told me I culdn’t do it
“I might arrive late”
He said he might arrive late
Direct and Indirect speech Examples for Tense
1. Simple Present to Simple Past
Direct: He said, “The boy goes home.” Indirect: He said that the boy went home.
2. Present Continuous to Past Continuous
Direct: Ram said, “I am reading a book.” Indirect: Ram said that he was reading a book.
3. Present Perfect to Past Perfect
Direct: The girl said, “I have lost my pen.” Indirect: The girl said that she had lost her pen.
4. Present Perfect Continuous to Past Perfect Continuous
Direct: He said, “Ram has been going.” Indirect: He said that Ram had been going.
5. Past Indefinite to Past Perfect
Direct: Mother said, “I bought a watch for you.”
Indirect: Mother said that she had bought a watch for him.
6. Past Continuous to Past Perfect Continuous
Direct: Raju said, “I was repairing a car.” Indirect: Raju said that he had been repairing a car.
7. Future Tense (shall/will) to future in the Past (should/would)
Direct: The teacher said, “I shall give you notes.” Indirect: The teacher said that he would give them notes.
8. Conditional to Perfect Conditional Direct:
Direct: He said, “If I had the money I could buy the car.” Indirect: She said that if he had the money he could have bought the car.
9. Past Perfect Tense: No Change
Direct: She said, “I had gone to Bhagalpur.” Indirect: She said that she had gone to Bhagalpur.
Direct: He said, “I would like to take milk.” Indirect: He said that he would like to take milk.
Direct: The boy said, “The teacher could have solved it in no time.” Indirect: The boy said that the teacher could have solved it in no time.
Direct: He said, “The boy must apologise to the teacher.” Indirect: He said that the boy must apologise to the teacher.
Changes of Interrogative Sentences
The reporting verb said/said to is changed in asked, demanded, ordered, enquired as per the nature of the sentence.
Toni said, “What is Luna doing?” Toni asked me what Luna was doing.
While a sentence starts with reporting verb then at the conversion time if /whether is used as the joining clause.
Luna said, “Will she come for lunch?” Luna asked if she would come for lunch.
In case the sentence starts from “Wh” question word, then no extra conjunction is used.
The boy asked, “Where do you stay?” The boy inquired where I stayed
Things are slightly more complicated with imperatives
tell + infinitive
He told me to shut up.
tell + not + infinitive
Don’t do that again!
He told me not to do it again.
imperatives as requests
ask + infinitive
Please give me some money
He asked me to give him some money.
Time and Place References
Time and place references often have to change
the following day, the next day, the day after
the following week, the next week, the week after
the previous day, the day before
the previous week, the week before
2 weeks ago
2 weeks previously, 2 weeks before
the previous Saturday, the Saturday before
the following Saturday, the next Saturday, the Saturday after, that Saturday
I went to the theatre last night. He said he had gone to the theatre the night before.
I’m having a party next weekend. He said he was having a party the next weekend.
I’m staying here until next week. He said he was staying there until the following week.
I came over from London 3 years ago. He said he had come over from London 3 years before.
When verbs don’t follow the rules?
The verb tenses do not always follow the rules shown above. For example, if the reporting verb is in the present tense, there is no change in the reported sentence. Also, a sentence in direct speech in present or future tense can remain the same if what is said is still true or relevant.
You’ve invited someone for dinner at your house, and the phone rings. It’s them! They say:
(on the phone) “I’m sorry, but I think I’m going to be a bit late. There’s a lot of traffic.”
After you finish speaking on the phone, you say to someone else:
That was Juan. He said he thinks he’s going to be late because there’s a lot of traffic.
A friend says to you: “Maria’s ill. She’s got chickenpox!”
You say to someone else: Laura said that Maria’s ill. She’s got chickenpox.
However, the following day you see Maria at the beach. You’re surprised and say to her:
Laura said that you were ill. She said you had chickenpox.
This has to change to the past because it isn’t true. Maria obviously isn’t ill.
Direct statements in past tense do not always change either, because a change might alter the meaning or just make it sound confusing.
A friend is telling you about the horrible weather: “It started raining heavily when I left work.” (This is where things get confusing):
He said it had started raining heavily when he had left work (it sounds horrible and the sentence is almost nothing but verbs).
He said it had started raining heavily when he left work (is wrong because it means it was already raining when he left work)
He said it started raining heavily when he left work (is the best version because it is accurate, short, and there is no confusion because of the time context)
Generally speaking, the past simple and continuous don’t always need to be changed if:
There is a time context which makes everything clear, and/or there is another action already using the past perfect, which might alter the meaning or make things confusing.
Rules for Universal Truth, Habitual Facts, etc.
(i) If the Reported Speech states some General, Universal or Habitual Truth, Proverb, Historical event in the past, Improbable future condition, the Present Tense used there is not changed into the corresponding past form.
Direct: My friend said, “I am an early riser.” Indirect: My friend said that he is an early riser.
Direct: Father said, “Man is the only animal that cooks his food.” Indirect: Father said that man is the only animal that cooks his food.
Direct: The teacher said, “Honesty is the best policy.” Indirect: The teacher said that honesty is the best policy.
Direct: The teacher said, “The earth moves around the sun.” Indirect: The teacher said that the earth moves around the sun.
(ii) The Past Indefinite Tense or the Past Continuous Tense is not changed if the Reported Speech states two actions which took place at the same time.
Direct: Sarla said, “When Ram was reading Sham was writing.” Indirect: Sarla said that when Ram was reading Sham was writing.
(iii) The Simple Past is not changed if the Reported Speech states a past historical event or fact.
Direct: The teacher said, “Akbar died in 1605 AD.” Indirect: The teacher said that Akbar died in 1605 AD.
(iv) Vocative and nominative of address are omitted altogether and their sense is expressed in the sentence.
Direct: The speaker said, “Gentlemen, I will tell you what is going there.” Indirect: The speaker told his audience (those present) that he would tell them what was going there
Direct: He said, “I hope, friends, you will support me.” Indirect: He said that he hoped they would support him.
(v) Past tense subjunctive after would like, would rather, etc. do not change.
Direct: He said, “I would rather she played.” Indict: He said that he would rather she played.
(vi) Pure imaginary conditions (if …. were clauses) do not change.
Direct: He said, “If I were rich, I would settle in Mumbai. Indirect: He said that if he were rich, he would settle in Mumbai.
(vii) Simple Past or Past Continuous tense in Time Clauses do not normally change. The main verb may either remain unchanged or may become the past perfect, as,
Direct: He said. “When we lived/were living in Chennai, we often visited Rameshwarm” Indirect: He said that when they lived/ were living in Chennai, they often visited/ had visite Rameshwarm
Rules for the Change of Pronouns
If the direct speech has a pronoun, its person is changed, when necessary, to refer in the indirect to the same individual as it does in the direct.
First person: the first person in reported speech changes according to the subject of reporting speech.
Soni said, “I am a good girl.” Soni said that she was a good girl.
Second person: in reported speech change of the second person depends on the object of reporting speech.
I told them, “You have finished your work.” I told them that they had finished their work.
Third person: the third person remains unchanged.
He said, “She is in Delhi.” He said that she was in Delhi.
Table for the changes in pronoun
Direct: He said, “I can cross this river.” Indirect: He said that he could cross that river.
Direct: You said. “I can cross this river.” Indirect: You said that you could cross that river.
Direct: I said, “I can cross this river.” Indirect: I said that I could cross that river.
You also need to be careful with personal pronouns. They need to be changed according to the situation. You need to know the context.
For example, there is possible confusion when you try to change reported speech to direct speech:
She said she’d been waiting for hours. (Is ‘she‘ one person or two different people?)
I told them they would have to ask permission. (Are we talking about two groups of people or only one?)