Reported Speech – A Summary

1. What is reported Speech?

There are two ways of telling one person what another person has said:

  • Direct Speech, where you use the speakers exact words and put them in quotation marks:

She said, “I want to go home” and left.

  • Indirect or Reported Speech, where we make the speakers words part of our own sentence and change pronouns, tenses etc., where necessary:

She said that she wanted to go home and left.

2. How to use Reported Speech

If you have a sentence in Direct Speech, try to follow these 5 steps to put the sentence into Reported Speech..

  1. Define the type of the sentence (statement, questions, command)
  2. What tense is used in the introductory sentence?
  3. Do you have to change the person (pronoun)?
  4. Do you have to backshift the tenses?
  5. Do you have to change expressions of time and place?

3. Statements, Questions, Commands

Look at the type of sentences when you use Reported Speech. There is more detailed information on the following pages.

4. The introductory sentence

If you use Reported Speech there are mostly two main differences.

The introductory sentence in Reported Speech can be in the Present or in the Past.

If the introductory sentences is in the Simple Present, there is no backshift of tenses.

Direct Speech:

  • Peter: “John plays tennis.”

Reported Speech:

  • Introductory sentence in the Simple Present → Peter says (that)* John plays tennis.
  • Introductory sentence in the Simple Past → Peter said (that)* John played tennis.

5. Change of persons/pronouns

If there is a pronoun in Direct Speech, it may need to be changed in Reported Speech, depending on the situation.

  • Direct Speech → John: I drive to work.”
  • Reported Speech → John said (that)* he drove to work.

Here I is changed to he.

6. Backshift of tenses

If there is backshift of tenses in Reported Speech, the tenses are shifted the following way.

  • Direct Speech → Susan: “I work in London.”
  • Reported Speech → Susan said (that)* she worked in London.
Direct SpeechReported Speech
Simple forms
Present SimplePast Simple
Past SimplePast Perfect
Present Perfect
Past Perfect
Continuous forms
was/werehad been
has been
had been

7. Changing expressions of time and place

If there is an expression of time/place in the sentence, it may need to be changed, depending on the situation.

  • Direct Speech → John: “I drove to work yesterday.”
  • Reported Speech → John said (that) he had driven to work the day before.
Direct SpeechReported Speech
this eveningthat evening
today/this daythat day
these daysthose days
a week agoa week before
last weekendthe weekend before / the previous weekend
next weekthe following week
tomorrowthe next/following day

8. Additional information

In some cases backshift of tenses is not necessary, e.g. when statements are still true. However backshifting of tenses is never wrong.

  • John: “New York is bigger than Paris.”
  • John said (that)* New York was bigger than Paris. or
  • John said (that)* New York is bigger than Paris.

* The word that is optional, that is why it is in brackets.