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Reported speech

Reporting statements

Reported speech (also called indirect speech) is the term used for the words that are used to report what someone has said or thought.

If the reporting verb (say, ask, etc.) is in the present or present perfect, then the tense of the sentence does not change:

  • ‘I’m going home.’ 
  • He says he’s going home. 
  • He’s just told me he’s going home. 

Reporting statements in the past

When you report somebody’s words using said, asked, etc., you usually change the tense to one further back in the past:

  • (present simple) ‘I don’t know whether Jane wants to come.’ 
  • (past simple) He said he didn’t know whether Jane wanted to come. 
  • (present progressive) ‘She is thinking of staying at home tomorrow.’ 
  • (past progressive) He said she was thinking of staying at home the following day. 
  • (present perfect) ‘Have you booked your ticket?’ 
  • (past perfect) She asked whether he had booked his ticket. 
  • (past simple) ‘I finished my exams yesterday.’ 
  • (past perfect) He said he had finished his exams the day before. 
  • (will) ‘I’ll ring from the station.’ 
  • (would) He promised he would ring from the station. 
  • (can) ‘I can’t speak Portuguese.’ 
  • (could) She admitted she couldn’t speak Portuguese. 

The modal verbs should, would, might, could, must and ought to are not usually changed:
  • ‘We might go to the cinema.’ 
  • They said they might go to the cinema. 

NOTE It may also be necessary to change other words in the sentence to show that the point of view has changed:

  • ‘I’ll do it myself.’
  • He said that he would do it himself. 
  • ‘We’re going home tomorrow.’ 
  • He said that they were going home the next day. 
  • ‘I don’t like these pears.’ 
  • She said that she didn’t like those pears. 
  • ‘We love living here.’ 
  • They said that they loved living there. 
  • ‘You can come whenever you like.’ 
  • She told me I could go whenever I liked. 

Reporting questions

The word order in reported questions is the same as that in a normal statement, not as in a question, and there is no question mark.

You use if or whether to report yes/no questions:
  • ‘Are you ready?’ 
  • She asked if/whether I was ready. 

With wh-questions, the wh- word stays in the sentence:
  • ‘When are you leaving?’ 
  • She asked me when I was leaving. 

Reporting requests and commands

When you report a request or an order, you usually use a to-infinitive:
  • ‘Will you open the window please?’ 
  • She asked me to open the window. 
  • ‘Don’t eat all the chocolate!’ 
  • She told the children not to eat all the chocolate. 

© Oxford University Press
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