Talking about what someone else has already said, also known as reported speech, involves a few special grammar rules in English.
So, how should you report speech in English? What are the grammar rules that dictate these indirect speech patterns? Finally, what are some examples of reported speech? We will answer all of these questions and more, but first, let’s take a look at exactly what is meant by “reported speech.”
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Reported Speech Rules in English:
What is reported speech?
Reported speech simply refers to statements that recount what someone else has already said or asked. For example, let’s say that you and your two friends went to the movies. As you’re leaving the movie theater, the following conversation takes place:
Friend #1: That movie was really scary!
You: I know, right?
Friend #2: What did he say?
You: He said that the movie was really scary.
The last sentence is what is known as “reported speech,” because you reported something that someone else said. In most cases, a statement of reported speech uses verbs like “say” or “tell,” though you can also use verbs like “state,” “proclaim,” or “announce,” depending on the context of the original statement.
In any case, this is just one example of reported speech in the simple past tense. Different rules apply based on the verb tense and the content of the statement. First, let’s look at how reported speech statements work in the simple present tense:
Reporting Statements in the Simple Present Tense
If you report a statement using the simple present tense (say, tell, etc), then you can also leave the original statement in the present tense. Here are a few examples:
As you can see, both the reporting verb and the reported verb remain in the simple present tense. It is also important to note that, regardless of the tense, the word “that” is completely optional in reported speech. The meaning stays the same with or without it.
Reporting Statements in Other Tenses
Generally, when the reporting verb is in the simple past tense, we also change the reported verb as well. For example:
Since reported speech is reported after the fact, the reporting verb is usually in the simple past tense. This means that, for the majority of reported statements, you will need to change the tense of the second clause. Let’s take a look at how each tense changes for reported speech:
As you can see, the rules governing how to report speech can vary based on the tense of the original statement. Generally, you can’t go wrong if you follow these guidelines (from the original statement to reported speech):
That said, there are some exceptions in the present tense. For example, if the original statement is comprised of general information that is unchanging, you don’t need to report it in the past tense. Here are a few examples:
Reporting statements is relatively straightforward, as it usually just requires the second clause to change tense (and sometimes not even that). However, reporting questions is a little more complex. When you report a question, you cannot simply repeat the original question. Instead, it must be turned into a statement. For example, let’s say that someone asks you the following question:
Do you have a lighter?
If you want to report this to someone else later, you will need to change it, like so:
They asked me if I had a lighter.
Thankfully, once you learn the rules for reporting statements, you can apply many of the same rules to reporting questions. All of the tense changes are the same. Here are some more examples:
Requests are treated the same as questions when reported to someone else. Here are a few examples:
However, if someone demands something, we generally report the speech using “told” instead of “asked” or “said.” Here are some commands in reported speech:
Finally, when reporting speech, you must always consider the time in which the original statement was made. If a time is mentioned within the statement, you will also have to consider how that time relates to the current moment. For example:
You have a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday.
Let’s say that the statement above was reported to you a few days prior, but you reported it to someone else on Monday (the day before the appointment). You could say either of the following:
She told me that I have a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, or
She told me that I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow.
Here are a few more time conversions to help you with reported speech:
Reported Speech Exercises
Now that you have a better understanding of reported speech in English, it’s time to practice! There are a number of ways to practice reported speech in daily conversation, but here are a few free online resources to help you get the hang of it:
If you’d like to learn more about reported speech or find a highly qualified English tutor online to help guide you, visit Magoosh Speaking today!