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Reported Speech

Reported Speech

1) When we want to tell somebody what someone else has said we can use either direct speech (exact words in quotation marks) or indirect speech (also called reported speech). The latter variant is more common.

Liz said, ‘I work as a nanny’. (direct speech)
Liz said that she works as a nanny. (reported speech)
2) In reported speech the reporting verb can stay in the present simple if the original words are still true or repeated very often.

Pam always tells me that she is going to get a gym membership.

If something is no longer true or happened some time ago, there is a backshift of tenses in reported speech (e.g. we use the past simple instead of the present simple). Study the following table:
Backshift of Tenses
Direct Speech
Reported Speech
present simple →
past simple
I like this movie.
Kate told me that she liked that movie.
present continuous →
past continuous
I’m working on the important project.
Jim said that he was working on the important project.
past simple →
past perfect
We bought a house.
The Smiths said that they had bought a house.
present perfect →
past perfect
I have known Mr. Ola for ages.
Peter claimed that he had known Mr. Ola for ages.
present perfect continuous →
past perfect continuous
I have been waiting for you for an hour!
Mike complained that he had been waiting for me for an hour.
past continuous →
past perfect continuous
We were working day and night.
They told me that they had been working day and night.
will → would
I will see you tomorrow!
Andrew told me that he would see me the following day.
can → could
Can you open this jar?
Betty asked me if I could open that jar.

Note that we also need to change time/place expressions and demonstratives in reported speech.
Indirect Speech
Reported Speech
that day
the day before
… days ago
… days before
last week
the week before
next year
the following year
the next/following day

The structure of the reported clause depends on whether we are reporting a statement, a question, or an imperative:
a) statements consist of a reporting clause and a reported clause beginning with that (although we can omit that in informal speech).

My sister told me (that) she wanted to move to China for a year.

b) yes-no questions and questions with or consist of a reporting clause and a reported clause beginning with if/whether. Note that the reported clause does not retain the word order of questions; use if/whether + subject + verb instead.

My boss asked me if/whether I had written the report on Thursday.
My boss asked me if/whether I had written the report on Thursday or Friday.

Wh-questions consist of a reporting clause and a reported clause beginning a wh-word (who, what, when, where, why, or how). Note that the reported clause does not retain the word order of questions; use if/whether + subject + verb instead.

Jack wanted to know what happened to our colleague.
The police was investigating who lived in that building.

c) imperatives consist of a reporting clause and a reported clause beginning with (not) to + infinitive.

My mom told me not to come home very late. She also asked me to buy some bread.

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