Explanations » B1 Grammar Explanations » Indirect speech – reported speech

What is indirect speech or reported speech?

When we tell people what another person said or thought, we often use reported speech or indirect speech. To do that, we need to change verb tenses (present, past, etc.) and pronouns (I, you, my, your, etc.) if the time and speaker are different. For example, present tenses become past, I becomes he or she, and my becomes his or her, etc.

  • Sally: I don’t have time.’ ⇒ Sally said that she didn’t have time. 
  • Peter: I am tired .’ ⇒ He said that he was tired. 


Omission of that

We often leave out that after reporting verbs like say, thinketc. 

  • She said she was late. (=She said that she was late.)
  • I thought I would get the job.  


Say or tell?

The most common verbs we use in reported speech are say and tell. We must pay attention here. We say tell somebody something, and say something (to somebody).

  • They told me (that) they would help me. (NOT They said me they would help me.)
  • He said (that) he didn’t have a car. (NOT He told that he didn’t have a car.)


Tense changes in indirect speech

When a person said something in the past and now we tell somebody what that person said, the time is different, and for this reason, the verb tenses change. Look at a summary of these changes.
indirect speech – reported speech

Changes in expressions

There are adverbs or expressions of time and place that change when we report what someone said. Here you have a list.
indirect speech – expressions

Questions in indirect speech

We use the normal order of words in reported questions, i.e. the subject comes before the verb, and it is not necessary to use do or did.
indirect speech – questions

Imperatives in indirect speech

When we report an order or instruction, we use the form ask or tell someone to do something.
indirect speech – imperatives

Pronoun changes in indirect speech

In reported or indirect speech we must also pay attention to the use of pronouns. When a person tells us something, he or she uses the first person (I, me, my, we, us, our) to talk about himself or herself and the second person (you, your) to talk about us, the person listening. But when we tell someone else what that person said, we are going to use the third person (he, she, his, her, etc.) to talk about the speaker and the first person (I, me, my) to talk about ourselves, the listener.

  • I will help you.’ He said that he would help me. 
  • ‘That’s my pen.’ She said that it was her pen. 
  • I need your help.’ ⇒ She said that she needed my help.