DIRECT AND REPORTED SPEECH
You can answer the question “What did he/she say?” in two ways:
• by repeating the words spoken (direct speech)
• by reporting the words spoken (indirect or reported speech).
Direct speech repeats, or quotes, the exact words spoken. When we use direct speech in writing, we place the words spoken between inverted commas (“….”) and there is no change in these words. We may be reporting something that’s being said NOW (for example a telephone conversation), or telling someone later about a previous conversation
She says “What time will you be home?”
She said “What time will you be home?”
and I said “I don’t know! ”
“There’s a fly in my soup!” screamed Simone.
John said, “There’s an elephant outside the window.”
Reported speech is usually used to talk about the past, so we normally change the tense of the words spoken. We use reporting verbs like ‘say’, ‘tell’, ‘ask’, and we may use the word ‘that’ to introduce the reported words. Inverted commas are not used.
She said, “I saw him.” She said that she had seen him.
a. ‘That’ may be omitted:
She told him that she was happy.
She told him she was happy.
b. ‘Say’ and ‘tell’:
Use ‘say’ when there is no indirect object:
He said that he was tired.
Always use ‘tell’ when you say who was being spoken to (i.e. with an indirect object):
He told me that he was tired.
‘Talk’ and ‘speak’ are used:
– to describe the action of communicating:
He talked to us.
She was speaking on the telephone.
– with ‘about’ to refer to what was said:
He talked (to us) about his parents.
CHANGE OF TIME AND PLACE REFERENCE
Time/place references are also changed in reported speech
“I will see you here tomorrow”, she said. She said that she would see me there the next day.
The most common of these changes are shown below:
“I saw him today”, she said. She said that she had seen him that day.
the day before
“I saw him yesterday”, she said. She said that she had seen him the day before.
The day before yesterday
two days before
“I met her the day before yesterday”, he said. He said that he had met her two days before.
the next/following day
“I’ll see you tomorrow”, he said He said that he would see me the next day.
The day after tomorrow
in two days time/ two days later
“We’ll come the day after tomorrow”, they said. They said that they would come in two days time/ two days later.
the following week/month/year
“I have an appointment next week”, she said. She said that she had an appointment the following week.
“I was on holiday last week”, he told us. He told us that he had been on holiday the previous week.
“I saw her a week ago,” he said. He said he had seen her a week before.
this (for time)
“I’m getting a new car this week”, she said. She said she was getting a new car that week.
“Do you like this shirt?” he asked He asked if I liked the shirt.
He said, “I live here”. He told me he lived there.
In general, personal pronouns change to the third person singular or plural, except when the speaker reports his own words:
I/me/my/mine, you/your/yours him/his/her/hers
we/us/our/ours, you/your/yours they/their/theirs:
He said: “I like your new car.” He told her that he liked her new car.
I said: “I’m going to my friend’s house.” I said that I was going to my friend’s house.
HOPES, INTENTIONS, PROMISES
When we report an intention, hope or promise, we use an appropriate reporting verb followed by a that-clause or a to-infinitive:
“I’ll pay you the money tomorrow.”
He promised to pay me the money the next day.
He promised that he would pay me the money the next day.
Other verbs used in this pattern include:
hope, propose, threaten, guarantee, swear.
a. “I’ll be back by lunchtime.”
He promised to be back by lunchtime.
He promised that he would be back by lunchtime.
b. “We should arrive in London before nightfall.”
They hoped to arrive in London before nightfall.
They hoped they would arrive in London before nightfall.
c. “Give me the keys to the safe or I’ll shoot you!”
He threatened to shoot me if I didn’t give him the keys to the safe.
He threatened that he would shoot me if I didn’t give him the keys to the safe.
Note: see also Summary of Reporting Verbs.
ORDERS, REQUESTS, SUGGESTIONS
1. When we want to report an order or request, we can use a verb like ‘tell’ with a to-clause.
He told me to go away.
The pattern is verb + indirect object + to-clause.
(The indirect object is the person spoken to.)
Other verbs used to report orders and requests in this way are: command, order, warn, ask, advise, invite, beg, teach, forbid.
a. The doctor said to me, “Stop smoking!”.
The doctor told me to stop smoking.
b. “Get out of the car!” said the policeman.
The policeman ordered him to get out of the car.
c. “Could you please be quiet,” she said.
She asked me to be quiet.
d. The man with the gun said to us, “Don’t move!”
The man with the gun warned us not to move.
(See also section on Verbs followed by infinitive and Verbs followed by gerund)
2. Requests for objects are reported using the pattern
ask + for + object: Examples:
a. “Can I have an apple?”, she asked. She asked for an apple.
b. “Can I have the newspaper, please?”
He asked for the newspaper.
c. “May I have a glass of water?” he said.
He asked for a glass of water.
d. “Sugar, please.”
She asked for the sugar.
e. “Could I have three kilos of onions?”
He asked for three kilos of onions.
3. Suggestions are usually reported with a that-clause. ‘That’ and ‘should’ are optional in these clauses:
She said: “Why don’t you get a mechanic to look at the car?” She suggested that I should get a mechanic to look at the car. OR She suggested I get a mechanic to look at the car.
Other reporting verbs used in this way are: insist, recommend, demand, request, propose.
a. “It would be a good idea to see the dentist”, said my mother. My mother suggested I see the dentist.
b. The dentist said, “I think you should use a different toothbrush”. The dentist recommended that I should use a different toothbrush.
c. My manager said, “I think we should examine the budget carefully at this meeting.” My manager proposed that we examine the budget carefully at the meeting.
d. “Why don’t you sleep overnight at my house?” she said. She suggested that I sleep overnight at her house.
Suggest can also be followed by a gerund: I suggested postponing the visit to the dentist.
See also Summary of Reporting Verbs.
1. Normal word order is used in reported questions, that is, the subject comes before the verb, and it is not necessary to use ‘do’ or ‘did’:
“Where does Peter live?” She asked him where Peter lived.
2. Yes / no questions: This type of question is reported by using ‘ask’ + ‘if / whether + clause:
a. “Do you speak English?” He asked me if I spoke English.
b. “Are you British or American?” He asked me whether I was British or American.
c. “Is it raining?” She asked if it was raining.
d. “Have you got a computer?” He wanted to know whether I had a computer.
e. “Can you type?” She asked if I could type.
f. “Did you come by train?” He enquired whether I had come by train.
g. “Have you been to Bristol before?” She asked if I had been to Bristol before.
3. Question words:
This type of question is reported by using ‘ask’ (or another verb like ‘ask’) + question word + clause. The clause contains the question, in normal word order and with the necessary tense change.
a. “What is your name?” he asked me. He asked me what my name was.
b. “How old is your mother?”, he asked. He asked how old her mother was.
c. The mouse said to the elephant, “Where do you live?” The mouse asked the elephant where she lived.
d. “What time does the train arrive?” she asked. She asked what time the train arrived.
e. “When can we have dinner?” she asked. She asked when they could have dinner.
f. The elephant said to the mouse, “Why are you so small?” The elephant asked the mouse why she was so small.
Note: See also Summary of Reporting Verbs REPORTED SPEECH
SUMMARY OF REPORTING VERBS
Note that some reporting verbs may appear in more than one of the following groups.
1. Verbs followed by ‘if’ or ‘whether’ + clause:
2. Verbs followed by a that-clause:
3. Verbs followed by either a that-clause or a to-infinitive:
4. Verbs followed by a that-clause containing should
(but note that it may be omitted, leaving a subject + zero-infinitive):
5. Verbs followed by a clause starting with a question word:
“I always drink coffee”, she said She said that she always drank coffee.
“I am reading a book”, he explained. He explained that he was reading a book
“Bill arrived on Saturday”, he said. He said that Bill had arrived on Saturday
“I have been to Spain”, he told me. He told me that he had been to Spain
“I had just turned out the light,” he explained. He explained that he had just turned out the light.
Present perfect continuous
Past perfect continuous
They complained, “We have been waiting for hours”. They complained that they had been waiting for hours.
Past perfect continuous
“We were living in Paris”, they told me. They told me that they had been living in Paris.
“I will be in Geneva on Monday”, he said He said that he would be in Geneva on Monday.
She said, “I’ll be using the car next Friday”. She said that she would be using the car next Friday.
6. Verbs followed by object + to-infinitive
Normally, the tense in reported speech is one tense back in time from the tense in direct speech:
She said, “I am tired.” She said that she was tired.
The changes are shown below:
1. You do not need to change the tense if the reporting verb is in the present, or if the original statement was about something that is still true, e.g.
He says he has missed the train but he’ll catch the next one.
We explained that it is very difficult to find our house.
2. These modal verbs do not change in reported speech:
might, could, would, should, ought to, e.g.
We explained that it could be difficult to find our house.
She said that she might bring a friend to the party.