Can you use REPORTED SPEECH? Grammar Lesson + Examples

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

This lesson is about reported speech in English – you will learn how to explain and say what someone else said.

Reported speech is a really useful tool when you are using English. It helps you to tell stories (about things that happened in the past) and it is often used to confirm or check information. Using reported speech will help you sound more professional and communicate more effectively at work too!

Are you ready to practise with me?


Video Transcript
Section 1
Well hey there I’m Emma from mmmEnglish!

Today’s lesson is one that you have been requesting for quite a while so I’m thrilled to be here with a brand new English lesson for you all about reported speech.

I promise you that once you get your head around reported speech you are going to love it. It helps us to tell stories, to talk about the past and even to help you confirm information.

It’s incredibly important and it’s incredibly useful and that is why you are here today to understand it, to learn how to use it in your fluent accurate English.

Make sure you head down to the description, click on the link to download the free workbook, the epic workbook that I’ve created to go along with this lesson. You’re going to find it so helpful. It has all the explanations, my bonus tips to help you use reported speech accurately, plus some questions that will help you to practise everything that you learn during this lesson which is very important.

Are you ready to dive in? Let’s go!

What is reported speech?

So what exactly is reported speech and when do we use it?

In English, we use reported speech to say what someone else says or even what we ourselves have said and it’s sometimes referred to as indirect speech. Reported speech, indirect speech, they’re the same thing. Direct speech is the exact words that come out of someone’s mouth.

She said “I woke up late this morning.”

That’s direct speech. If we wrote down these words, we’d have to use quotation marks. That’s these things, quotation marks.

And we’d use quotation marks to show that these are the exact words that they used when they spoke.

But in indirect speech or reported speech, we have to change some things like verb tense and pronouns to show that some time has passed since the words were originally spoken between that time and now when we’re retelling this story.

  • She said that she had woken up late that morning.

There are four steps that we need to follow when we’re reporting what someone else said.

The first thing is we need to add a reporting verb. We need to change the pronouns, we need to change the time and the place words and finally, we need to backshift the tense.

All right let’s take a closer look at this together.

  • My holiday starts next week!
    Lucky you! We’re not going on holiday this year.

If I want to retell what these people were talking about to someone else at another time, I would need to use reported speech to do it. This is direct speech.

  • My holiday starts next week.

But in reported speech, it needs to change to:

  • He said or the man said that his holiday started the following week.
    Lucky you! We’re not going on holiday this year.

So in reported speech this changes to she said or the woman said that they weren’t going on holiday that year.

Throughout this whole video, the speech bubbles are going to show you direct speech. Reported speech is going to be written below the speech bubble okay? There’s a visual link to follow here. Let’s break it down.

1. Reporting verbs/clauses

For reported speech, first of all, we need to start with a reporting verb or a reporting clause.

He said or the man said that

  • She said the woman said that.

What is the reporting verb in these examples though? Say.

The most common reporting verbs in English are say and tell. Tell is a transitive verb so it always needs an object when it’s used whereas say doesn’t need to have an object.

I’ve got a really useful lesson that might help you to jog your memory about these verbs about say and tell. It’s linked up here but I’m going to put it at the end as well if you want to review.

Let’s look at another example.

  • I saw Judy last week.

This is direct speech, isn’t it? And we can use indirect speech to report.

  • She said that she had seen Judy last week.
  • Or she told me that she had seen Judy last week.

She told me or she said that but not she told that or she said me. No, no, no.

2. Change the pronouns

Okay let’s go back to the examples from before. We need to take a close look at the pronouns we’re using when we change from direct speech to reported speech and in these examples: my becomes his and we becomes they.

We need to do this to make sure the meaning of the sentence stays the same.

I know that it’s a little bit confusing but why don’t we compare two sentences together so that I can explain it a little more for you.

  • My holiday starts next week.
  • He said that my holiday started the following week.

Hang on, whose holiday? Mine or the man’s?

The man is talking about his own holiday, not mine, so to make sure that the meaning stays the same, we have to change the pronouns in reported speech to reflect that.

  • He said that his holiday started the following week.

3. Change the time and place words

The third step is to change any time and place words.

So here next week becomes the following week. And this year becomes that year. The first and most important thing that you need to remember here is that the time references need to change in reported speech.

So do words like here and there, this and that, they all need to change and we do this to create a sense of distance or time passed but it can be a little tricky to guess exactly how these words change.

That’s why I’ve put together a list of typical changes to time and to place words and I’ve put them into the worksheet that I’ve created for you. Plus, there are some practice questions to help test what you know and to make sure it sticks in your brain.

4. Backshift the tense

The last thing you need to do is to backshift the tense. If you’ve studied with an English grammar textbook before, you might have heard this word and thought backshift? What is that, what’s backshift?

Well kind of self-explanatory. It means we need to shift the tense back by one degree.

So in our examples here, the present simple changes to the past simple and in this sentence, the present continuous changes to the past continuous.

Remembering which tense to use and when is probably the trickiest thing about reported speech but don’t fear, never fear. I have put all of them into a list for you again included in your workbook.

I know this might look a little bit intimidating but I’ll show you a couple of hacks that will make it easy for you to learn the rules.

First of all, the future tenses are simple. All of these future tenses in English are formed with the auxiliary verb will and in reported speech, all we need to do is shift will to would.

  • I’ll meet you at the corner in half an hour.
  • He said that he would meet me at the corner half an hour later.

Will is simple but we can also form future sentences in English with be going to. So in this case we need to shift am, is or are back to was or were.

  • We’re going to the movies tonight.
  • They said that they were going to the movies that night.

Look at that! We’ve already crossed five tenses off that list.

Now we’re left with the present tense and the past tenses and I promise it’s not as complicated as it looks. We just need to look at the tenses in a slightly different way.

There are three overarching English tenses, aren’t there? The past, the present, the future.

And within each of these tenses there are four modes. Say them with me.

  • The simple
  • Continuous
  • Perfect
  • Perfect continuous

We can get rid of the future tenses because we’ve already learned about will and be going to.

Looking at this chart, it’s easy to see how the tenses will shift. The present tenses all shift back one degree to the equivalent tense in the past. The present simple becomes the past simple. These two tenses mirror each other.

  • We live on Elm street.
  • She said that they lived on Elm street.

For the past tenses, it’s not quite as simple because we don’t have another column of tenses that can mirror these ones but we can still shift back one degree.

The past simple becomes the past perfect and the past continuous becomes the past perfect continuous.

  • I was washing the dishes at the time.
  • He said that he had been washing the dishes at that time.

And last but not least, the past perfect and the past perfect continuous, they just stay the same. We can’t shift them back by one degree because there are no more tenses back there to go to right? So they stay the same. There’s no change there.

  • I’ve been listening to music.
  • She said she had been listening to music.

Now it can be tricky to remember all of this information but don’t worry, you’re going to find all of it plus exercises and examples to help you practise in that workbook that I created for you.

I keep talking about how epic this workbook is, just go and download it. It is so full of great tips and little hacks to help you remember and also practise everything that we’re learning in this lesson.

Reported speech exceptions

Now this wouldn’t be an English lesson if there wasn’t an exception right? There are some instances where we don’t backshift the tense in reported speech.

So this happens when the information that you’re reporting is current so for example:

  • The company told their staff that they’re moving offshore.

You’ll see this form of reported speech used a lot in the news. It’s current information, it’s happening now.

So the reporting is probably happening really close to the time that the information was said and this is where you might often see some other reporting verbs used, verbs that might be a little more formal like announced or reported.

And actually, you’ll find a list of some of the other reporting verbs in the workbook.

Now we don’t backshift the tense when the information is ongoing.

  • I love my family.
  • She said that she loves her family.

To love something or someone is an ongoing state so we wouldn’t usually change the tense here and if you do, it makes it sound like she loved her family in the past but now she doesn’t so you really do need to be careful about this.

If it’s an ongoing state or a condition, we don’t move that tense backwards.

And we don’t backshift when we’re reporting something that happened very recently, then we don’t need to change the tense either. For example, if I just got off the phone and I’m telling you what I heard in a conversation.

  • I’ll be about 15 minutes, okay?
    Shah said that he’s running late. He’ll be here in 15 minutes.

Reported questions

We don’t only use reported speech for statements. We can also use them to report questions as well and this is super useful in a professional context where you’re sharing information with customers or with clients or with colleagues.

There are two types of questions in English, you probably know them, I’ve mentioned them in several videos before.

We have closed questions, yes, no questions, and open questions or sometimes referred to as WH questions. Closed questions, these are questions where the answer can only be yes or no like this one.

  • Are you going on holiday?

These questions are reported like this.

  • He asked if or whether we were going on holiday.

So just like in our statements, we need to start with a reporting clause but this time we need a question reporting verb like ask or inquire or wonder. And instead of that, we’re completing the reporting clause with whether or if.

Then we need to add the content of the question but we need to use the word order of a statement so that’s subject, verb, object. Right?

Now let’s think about this for a minute because in normal speech when we ask a question, we invert the auxiliary verb and the subject, don’t we?

A normal statement would be subject, verb, object and that becomes verb, subject, object, right?

So we’re running late becomes: Are we running late?

But in a reported question, we use if or we use whether and then the statement word order following.

  • He asked if we were running late.

Subject, verb, object.

Let’s do another one.

  • Have you been to Rome before?

He inquired whether I had been to Rome previously.

All the other steps remain exactly the same. We add a reporting clause. we change the pronouns, we change the time and the place words and we backshift the tense.

In an open question and remember this is a question that starts with a question word like who, what, where, why, when, which or how.

We keep that question word but we switch the verb and the subject around just as we did with the closed question. So like this.

  • Where are you going on holiday?

Becomes: He asked where we were going on holiday.

So we have a reporting clause with a question word and our question in a statement word order following. All the same rules about changing the pronouns, the time and place words and the tense, they all still apply. You just follow a slightly different structure.

Now you have almost made it to the end of this lesson but I do want to offer you a couple of bits of bonus advice. I really want you to take your reported speech skills up to the next level so I want to talk about some other really functional statements in English that frequently occur in reported speech like giving advice, explaining instructions, making requests or making promises and offers.

All of these important functions in English, they often occur in reported speech.

Let’s look at some examples.

  • You shouldn’t make a promise you can’t keep.

So this is a classic piece of advice. And of course, we can use the same steps that we learned earlier to turn this sentence into reported speech.

  • He told me that I shouldn’t make a promise I couldn’t keep.

That is perfectly acceptable and it’s correct English grammar.

However, there is another way.

  • He advised me not to make a promise I couldn’t keep.

Let’s take a closer look at this structure now.

We can see the verb advise and the object then a to-infinitive and in this case the infinitive is preceded by not because the sentence is negative.

Not to make a promise.

  • He advised me not to make a promise.
  • He advised me to study hard for the exam.

We use the verbs ask, advise, instruct and tell with this pattern when we’re giving advice.

  • Lock the door when you leave.

That’s an instruction.

  • They instructed me to lock the door when I left.
  • They told me to lock the door when I left.
  • Or they asked me to lock the door.

All of these verbs have similar meanings but they are slightly different.

Let’s look at another one. The teacher said:

  • Please stack the chairs in the corner.

That’s a request or an instruction.

  • The teacher asked us to stack the chairs in the corner.
  • The teacher instructed us to stack the chairs.
  • The teacher told us to stack the chairs.

We can use a very similar structure for offers and for promises with the verbs offer and promise with the to-infinitive. The only difference is that there’s no object.

  • Do you need help?

That’s an offer, right? So of course, we could say:

  • She asked whether I needed help but we could also say:
  • She offered to help me.

Let’s look at a promise now.

  • I’ll make it up to you.
  • He said that he would make it up to me.
  • He promised to make it up to me.

Now the meaning of these two sentences are similar but the second one is just a little bit more precise in the way that it retells the information.

Learning to use both of these structures will help to make your English more interesting and it’s going to help you to express yourself more clearly, especially when it comes to storytelling and writing.

So that’s it!

I’m wondering if you can use reported speech to report on something that I said during this lesson. If you can, share that sentence down in the comments below. Even though this grammar is a little tricky to get your head around, it really does just take practice. You will be able to do it. The more that you practise, the easier it will get and that is exactly why I created the workbook for you to help you put everything you learned into practice and make sure it sticks.

So what are you waiting for? Go and grab it!

Thank you so much for joining me today, I hope you enjoyed the lesson. Check out these ones next. I’ll see you in there!

Links mentioned in the video

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