Reported speech

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Reported speech

– Often we report what people said or thought in the past using reporting verbs. When we do this, what the other person actually thought or said usually changes one tense further back:


Actual words


Does Did
Is doing Was doing
Will do Would do
Did Had done
Has done Had done

In general:



Simple present Simple past
Present continuousPast continuous
FutureWould + infinitive
Simple pastPast perfect
Present perfectPast perfect

– Most frequently used reporting verbs:
1. Say: it is not followed by an object
e.g.: He said he was French. (he said me – is incorrect)
2. Tell: it is followed by an indirect object
e.g.: He told me he was French. (he told he was – is incorrect)

– In certain cases ( e.g.: when reporting general facts or very recent speech) no tense change is necessary:
Our teacher told us that penguins live in Antarctica.
He said he will be there by 10 o’clock tonight.

– Modal auxiliaries:
If the reporting verb is in a past tense, modals change where there is a “past” equivalent.
Will -> Would, Can-> Could, May-> Might
Could, would, might do not change.
Must can be reported as either had to or remain as must.
– Most useful categories of reporting verbs:

1. Verbs followed by THAT + CLAUSE (with * can be followed by a person):

add, admit, agree, announce, argue, believe, claim, complain, confirm, consider, decide, deny, doubt, estimate, expect *, explain, feel, hope, imply, insist, mean, mention, object, persuade, predict, promise *, reassure *, reckon, remark, repeat, reply, report *, say, state, suggest, suppose, tell *, think, threaten *, warn *


2. Verbs followed by PERSON + TO

advise, ask, forbid, instruct, invite, order, persuade, remind, tell, warn

– Verbs which can be impersonal with IT

The speaker may not want to take personal responsibility for a statement, or may be reporting the views of a group of people. These verbs can be used in the passive, introduced by IT.
E.g.: It has been agreed to close most of the coal mines.

Agree, announce, believe, claim, confirm, consider, decide, estimate, expect, fear, feel, hope, imply, know, predict, reckon, recommend, report, rumour, say, state, suggest, suppose, think

– Many verbs describe a function, rather than report words
e.g.: – Look, if I were you, I’d leave early. ->She advised me to leave early.

Admit, advise, agree, complain, invite, persuade, request, remind, threaten, suggest, warn

– Some verbs describe actions
e.g.: – Hi Dave, how are you? ->He greeted me.

Accept, congratulate, decide, greet, interrupt, introduce

– Changes of time, place and person reference
In a report, there is no longer a clear reference which can be understood by two people in the same place.
I left the parcel on this chair. ->A report would have to specify which chair: He said ha had left the parcel on the chair by the window.
I love this town. ->The reference may be replaced by a more general one: She said that she loved the town.

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