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Reported Speech – English Grammar


When we are finding out how to learn English grammar online, the way to present spoken words as reported or direct speech is an important skill to acquire. Reported speech is sometimes called indirect speech, to contrast with direct speech.

Direct Speech

Although this piece is mainly focussed on reported speech, in order to understand this fully a good knowledge of how to write direct speech is really important.

Direct speech refers to the actual words that are spoken by a person, or character, in a story. We have rules to show this.

Punctuation of Direct Speech

There are many rules and conventions of punctuating direct speech (sometimes called dialogue):

  • Speech Marks: The actual words spoken appear between speech marks (it does not matter whether these are single or double, as long as the writer is consistent). All other punctuation appears within the speech marks.

‘How do you feel today?’ I asked.

  • End of dialogue: Often, when writing direct speech, the speaker will be identified with something like he said, or cried Joan. If this comes after a piece of direct speech, then that direct speech will usually end with a comma, although it can use a question mark, ellipses or exclamation mark, but not a full stop.
  • Sentences: Direct speech is considered a sentence within its own right, and is punctuated accordingly.
  • Paragraphing: Every time there is a change of speaker there should be a new paragraph. Normally, unless just a few words are being spoken, direct speech should begin a new paragraph.
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Reported Speech

However, often a writer simply wants to carry the gist, or meaning, of the actual words a person uses. This is when indirect speech comes into play. Not only is this punctuated differently (none of the rules specific to direct speech apply – reported speech is punctuated as normal prose), but sometimes the tense of verb forms can change.

In reported speech tenses, pronouns and adverbial phrases often (but not always) change. The tables and examples below illustrate this. Firstly, we look at tense.

Tense Direct speech Reported Speech
Present ‘I regularly exercise,’ he said. He said that he exercises regularly.
Present Continuous ‘I am repairing the car,’ said John. John said that he was repairing the car.
Past ‘He ate his dinner,’ said Mum. Mum said that he had eaten his dinner.
Present Perfect ‘I have been shopping,’ said my wife. My wife told me that she had been shopping.
Past Perfect ‘I just finished the test,’ said the boy. The boy said that he had just finished the test.
Present Perfect Continuous They stuttered, ‘We have been waiting for your call.’ They stuttered that they had been waiting for her call.
Past Continuous ‘I was working,’ he explained. He explained that he had been working.
Future ‘I will be paying in my salary on Tuesday,’ he said. He said that he  would be paying in his salary on Tuesday.
Future Continuous ‘I’ll be visiting on Thursday,’ she explained. She explained that she would be visiting on Thursday.

two women reviewing documents reported speech

Pronouns in Reported Speech

Next we will consider how pronouns can be changed when shifting from direct to reported speech. There are rules to remember. They are complex, but can soon be learned.

  1. First Person Pronoun – we, I, me, mine, us, our

If we are talking about a third person pronoun (for example: she, it, he, their etc) then the pronoun changes.

‘I love football,’ he told me.
He told me that he loves football.

If we are talking about another first person then the pronoun, then the pronoun does not change.

I said, ‘I love football.’
I said that I love football.

  1. Second Person Pronoun – you, yours

The pronoun changes to fit with the object of the sentence.

She said to me, ‘You are my hero!’
She said to me that I was her hero.

‘You are my hero,’ she said to him.
She said to him that he was her hero.

  1. Third Person Pronoun – she, he, it, they, his, him, them, his

The pronoun is not changed when direct speech is switched to reported speech.

‘It will fall over,’ he said.
He said that it would fall over.

Adverbial changes in Reported Speech

Adverb is direct speech Adverb in reported speech
He said, ‘I like this.’
He said that he liked that.
‘How much are these?’ he asked.
He asked how much those were.
‘Here it is!’ she shouted.
She shouted that it was there.
‘I want it now,’ screamed the child.
The child screamed that he wanted it then.
‘It will arrive today,’ said the postman.
That day
The postman said that it would arrive that day.
‘I was upset yesterday,’ said Bill.
The previous day, the day before
Bill said that he had been upset the day before.
‘I will tell you tomorrow,’ promised Fred.
The next day
Fred promised that he would tell me the next day.
‘It happened long ago,’ said the T Rex.
The T Rex said that it had happened long before.
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These rules can seem confusing, but a good way to practice them is to take direct speech from a book, or from a quote in a newspaper, and try putting it into reported speech. The rules in this article can then be used to check that you have the right idea.

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