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Reported speech


Grammatical form

subject + reporting verb + direct object + (that) + clause
I told him (that) I lived in London.

subject + reporting verb + (that) + clause>
I said (that) I lived in London.

subject+ reporting verb + to-infinitive
I told him to call back later.

subject + reporting verb + verb-ing
She suggested changing the colour.

subject+ reporting verb + (direct object) + if / whether + clause ?
I asked her whether she had seen Lynne.

subject + reporting verb + (direct object)+ question word + clause ?
She asked him where he had been.

General points - reported speech and direct speech

There are two common ways to tell somebody (report) people's words, thoughts etc.
These are : direct speech and reported speech.

Direct speech is when we use the exact words that were said.
(Note : We can't use direct speech for thoughts, except in 'thought bubbles' in commic books.)

Malcolm : I like coffee.

We can write this in direct speech as follows :

Malcolm said, 'I like coffee.'

(1) We need to put a comma after the verb say.
(2) The words that Malcolm used are put in inverted commas, ' ' or " ". (Double or single can be used. Single quotes are more common in British English; double quotes are preferred in American English.)

Direct speech is not very common in spoken English. It is more common to use reported speech

Let's look at the same example again.

Malcolm : I like coffee.

We can write this in reported speech as follows :

Malcolm said (that) he liked coffee.

(1) There is no comma after said.
(2) The verb like, which Malcolm used in the present simple tense, has been changed to past simple tense. This is called the one-tense-back rule.
(3) The word that is optional.

One-tense-back reference

Tenses are usually back-shifted as shown below:

I play
She said she played
I am playing
She said she was playing
I played
She said she had played
I have played
She said she had played
I have been playing
She said she had been playing

I had played
She said she had played
I had been playing
She said she had been playing
I will play
She said she would play
I am going to play
She said she was going to play
I can play
She said she could play

Time considerations and the one-tense-back rule

When the reporting verb (say, tell etc.) is in the past tense, the other verb tenses are usually changed or backshifted.

For example, when we are reporing something someone said yesterday, last week etc.

Dawn : I feel tired.

This is reported as :

Dawn said she felt tired.

If the speaker uses a past tense in the original statement, in formal English we should use a past perfect tense in the reported statement to show that it is in the past.

Andy : I called you on Monday.

Andy said he had called on Monday.

However, in informal spoken English, sometimes the past tense is reported as the past tense. i.e. there's no change.

Andy : I called you on Monday.

Andy said he called on Monday.

Other verbs are also backshifted. See the table at the bottom of this page.

Tomorrow, yesterday etc.

When reporting things said in the past, you must take care to change certain words and phrases that are only relevant to the original time or place.

For example, tomorrow is only used with reference to today. The day after last Friday is not tomorrow.


It's Friday and Joanne says to Tina, 'I'm going to Tokyo tomorrow'.

A week later Tina reports this to Melanie:

I saw Joanne last week. She said she was going to Tokyo the next day.
Not, She said she was going to Tokyo tomorrow.

Other 'here and now' words and phrases

here in direct speech becomes there in reported speech (if the place has changed).
yesterday becomes the day before
next week / month /year etc. become the next week / month /year etc. or the following week / month /year etc.
ESL quizzes for Reported speech
Reported speech transformation quiz 01
Fifteen-question transformation quiz.
Reported speech transformation quiz 02
Twelve question direct->reported speech quiz. Includes questions, same time - same tense, and special reporting verbs (remind etc.)


Comparison with as...as...

Comparison with <i>as</i>...</i>as...</as>: picture
Detailed grammar reference notes on comparison with as....
Three pages, illustrated. Includes positive and negative forms, modifiers and common similes.
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Download Comparison with as...as - grammar notes (PDF)