Reported Speech

Direct speech and reported speech

Reported speech (also called indirect speech) gives the meaning of what someone said, not the exact words, while direct speech gives the exact words of the speaker, enclosed in quotation marks (or inverted commas.

With reported speech, we do not use quotation marks.

We use that to connect the introduction with the reported words. Using the connecting word that is optional.

  • Direct: I am going to help you,” he said.
  • Reported: He said (that) he was going to help us.

Introductory verbs

There are certain verbs that we use to introduce reported speech. Here are the most common of them. (More introductory verbs with examples are given below.)

1. say / said

  • Direct: “I need a break,” she said.
  • Reported: She said (that) she needed a break.

2. tell / told

  • Direct: “I need a break,” she said to me.
  • Reported: She told me (that) she needed a break.

3. ask / asked

  • Direct: “Are you ready?” she asked me.
  • Reported: She asked me if I was ready.

Note: Unlike told and asked, with the verb said, we do not mention the person to whom the words were said.

Change of verb tenses 

Because speech is often reported after it was said, verb tenses in the original statements change.

Here is a summary of tense changes with examples

Direct SpeechReported Speech
present simplepast simple
"I swim daily," he said.He said he swam daily.
Past simple   Past perfect
"I swam daily," he said. He said he had swum daily.
Present continuousPast continuous
"I am swimming now," he said.He said he was swimming then.
Past continuousPast perfect continuous
"I was swimming," he said. He said he had been swimming.
Present perfectPast perfect
"I have already swum," he said.He said he had already swum.
Past perfectPast perfect
"I had swum," he said. He said he had already swum.
will / can / maywould / could / might
"I will swim tomorrow," he said. He said he would swim the following day.
must / have to / has tohad to
"I must swim every day," he said.He said he had to swim every day.
should / ought to / mightshould / ought to / might
"I should swim every day," he said.He said he should swim every day.

When not to change verb tenses?

If the speech is reported immediately, the tense does not change. 

  • Direct: “It is hot these days,” she said.
  • Reported: She said it is hot these days.

If the introductory verb used is in the present simple, future simple or present perfect, we do not change verb tense.

  • Direct: “This information is confidential.”
  • Reported: She says this information is confidential.
  • Reported: She has said this information is confidential.
  • Reported: She will say this information is confidential.

In addition, tense does not change when we talk about general truths, permanent states, and conditions.

  • Direct: He said, “Earth travels around the sun. ” 
  • Reported: He said Earth travels around the sun.

We do not change verb tense when we report wishes, preferences, and unreal past.

  • Direct: He said, “I wish I could fly. ” 
  • Reported: He said he wishes he could fly.

⇔  Try this quiz on reporting statements.

How to report imperatives

To report imperative verbs (commands, requests, suggestions), we use an infinitive verb and we use tell / told or ask / asked, but not say / said. 

Other verbs that can be used to report imperatives are: advise, order, beg, etc.

  • Direct:Open the door.” 
  • Reported: He told me to open the door.
  • Direct:“Will you pass the salt, please?” 
  • Reported: He asked me to pass the salt.
  • Direct:Forgive my son, please.” 
  • Reported: He begged me to forgive his son.

To report a negative imperative, we use not to infinitive.

  • Direct:Don’t open this document.” 
  • Reported: He ordered them not to open that document.

With the verb suggest, we use that-clause or verb-ing.

  • Direct:“I suggest that you go to the doctor.” 
  • Reported: He suggested that I (should) go to the doctor.
  • Direct:“I suggest that you take a home remedy.” 
  • Reported: He suggested taking a home remedy.

⇔  Take a quiz on how to report imperatives.

How to report questions

When we report questions we change the helping verb-subject order to subject-helping verb/verb.

We follow the same rules of tense changes.

Yes/No questions

We use if or whether to connect the introduction with reported words.

  • Direct:Are you tired?” 
  • Reported: He asked me if I was tired.
  • Direct:Does she eat tuna fish?” 
  • Reported: He asked me if she ate tuna fish.
  • Direct:Did they arrive?” 
  • Reported: He asked me if they had arrived.
  • Direct:Has she resigned?” 
  • Reported: He asked me whether she had resigned or not.


  • Direct:“What are you doing?” 
  • Reported: He wanted to know what I was doing.
  • Direct:“When will they arrive?” 
  • Reported: He wanted to know when they would arrive.
  • Direct:“What has she eaten?” 
  • Reported: He wanted to know what she had eaten.
  • Direct:“When do they wake up?” 
  • Reported: He wanted to know when they woke up.
  • Direct:“Why did they leave early?” 
  • Reported: He wanted to know why they had left early.

⇔  Take a quiz on how to report questions.

Change of time expressions

Because the time of reported speech is later than that of direct speech, time reference will be different. As a result, time expressions in reported speech change according to the context.

This is a table of the most common time expressions and how they change.

Direct SpeechReported Speech
tonight, today, this week / month / yearthat night, that day, that week / month / year
nowthen, at the time, at once, immediately
yesterday, last night / week / month / yearthe day before. the previous night / week / month / year
tomorrowthe following day, the day after, the next day
next week/month/yearthe following / the next week / month / year
two days / weeks / months / years agotwo days/ weeks / months / years before

Special introductory verbs

Sometimes we use verbs other than say, tell, ask to introduce reported speech. We need to choose an appropriate reporting verb  because each verb expresses how the reporting person interprets the speech.  Here are some of these verbs with examples.

advise somebody to infinitive

  • You should visit the doctor.”
  • She advised me to visit a doctor.

accuse somebody of verb-ing

  • You spoiled my plan.”
  • She accused me of spoiling her plan.

admit verb-ing

  • I broke the screen.”
  • She admitted breaking the screen.

apologize for + verb-ing

  • I apologize for breaking the screen.”
  • She apologized for breaking the screen.

boast that

  • I was the one who developed the app.”
  • She boasted that she had developed the app.

claim that

  • I fixed the errors in the program.”
  • She claimed that she had fixed the errors in the program.

complain that

  • The place is not clean.”
  • She complained that the place was not clean.

demand that

  • “Pull down the curtains immediately.”
  • She demanded that I should pull down the curtains immediately.

deny verb-ing

  • I didn’t use your laptop.”
  • She denied using (or having used) my laptop.

encourage somebody to infinitive

  • You should read more about the topic.”
  • She encouraged me to read more about the topic.

inform somebody that

  • The parental meeting will be tomorrow.”
  • She informed us that the parental meeting would be the following day.

insist that

  • You have to pay immediately.”
  • She insisted that I had to pay immediately.

refuse to infinitive

  • I won’t let you use my car.”
  • She refused to lend me her car.

remind somebody to

  • Remember to switch off the lights.”
  • She reminded me to switch off the lights.

state that

  • Our company ranking has improved.”
  • The manager stated that the company ranking had improved.

threaten to infinitive

  • If you keep annoying me, I will tell the teacher.”
  • She threatened to tell the teacher if he kept annoying her.

suggest verb-ing

  • Why don’t you try the new software?”
  • She suggested trying the new software.

warn somebody to infinitive

  • Don’t throw the ball.”
  • She warned him not to throw the ball.