Reported Speech in English

Sometimes you need to tell people about your conversations and change direct speech into indirect speech. When you do this, you need to make sure that the tenses are correct.

For example, Karen says to Peter: “My job is very interesting.” Peter then wants to report this conversation to Sarah a week later. He says: “Karen said that her job was interesting.”

When you report a conversation, the tense changes:

“My job is very interesting” becomes: She said that her job was very interesting.

Tense changes

I’m going swimming” – She said she was going swimming.

“I haven’t seen the film” – She said she hadn’t seen the film.

“I have been working all morning” – She said she had been working all morning.

“I was working all week” – She said she had been working all week.

“He went on holiday to Greece” – She said he had gone on holiday to Greece.

Sentences that are already in the “had done” form remain the same:

“I hadn’t seen him before” – She said she hadn’t seen him before.

Reporting modal verbs

Modal verbs also go back one tense.

Will becomes would.

For example: “I will see him later” – She said she would see him later.

Can becomes could.

For example: “I can swim” – She said she could swim.

May becomes might.

For example: “It may become colder over night” – He said it might become colder over night.

Direct speech using would, could, might and should all stay the same in reported speech.

“You should speak more” – He said I should speak more.

Reporting questions

When you report questions, the word order changes to look like a normal statement.

For example: “Can you help me?” – She asked me if I could help her.

“What’s the time?” – He asked her what the time was.

Other changes

Time expressions also change in reported speech.

today – that day

tomorrow – the day after / the next day

yesterday – the day before / the previous day

now – then

next week – the week after

last week – the week before / the previous week

Other expressions that change:

here – there

this – that