Free English Lessons

Reported Speech – Video Lesson

by Oli Redman on 24 November, 2016 , No comments

In this lesson, you can learn how to talk about what someone else said; we call this reported speech. When you use reported speech, you need to change some things, for example verb tenses and pronouns. What do you need to change in reported speech? How do verb tenses change in reported speech? You can find out in this lesson!

1. How to Report Speech in the Present

The basic rule for reported speech is that verbs move one step back into the past.

So the present simple will usually change to the past simple in reported speech.

For example, your friend Jenny says:

  • “I enjoy learning other languages.”

How would you report that sentence to someone else?

It would become:

  • Jenny said (that) she enjoyed learning other languages.

After the verbs say or tell, you can choose to use that or not. You can say Jenny said she enjoyed… or Jenny said that she enjoyed… It doesn’t matter which you use.

Let’s look at another example:

Matthew says:

  • “She always borrows my iPad without asking me first.”

How would we report this?

  • Matthew said that she always borrowed his iPad without asking him first.

Again, we change the present tense borrows to the past tense borrowed.

Of course, there are other present tenses. Imagine you call Jenny and ask her if she’s free to come out for a coffee.

She’s busy watching TV and says:

  • “I can’t, I’m watching the World Cup Final.”

Here, Jenny uses the present continuous. If the present simple gets changed to the past simple, can you guess what happens with the present continuous?

It changes to the past continuous. Remember the idea: verbs move back one step into the past.

So how would you tell someone what Jenny said?

You could say:

  • She said she couldn’t come because she was watching the World Cup Final.

Also notice how can changes to could.

However, there are times when you might not change the verb in reported speech. Let’s look at how this works.

2. When \not to Change the Verb Tense

Imagine that your friend Matthew says:

  • “I live in London.”

You could change the verb and make it past:

  • He told me (that) he lived in London.

…or you could leave it:

  • He told me (that) he lives in London.

Why is this? It’s because Matthew still lives in London now.

When you report speech, if whatever you’re reporting is still true now, you don’t have to change the tense.

For example, if I tell you:

  • “Game of Thrones is my favourite TV show.”

You want to tell someone else what I said. How would you do it?

Probably, you’d say:

  • Johan said that Game of Thrones is his favourite TV show.

Why wouldn’t you change the verb? Because it’s still my favourite show.

To be clear, you could change the verb. It wouldn’t be wrong, but native speakers often don’t change the verb in these cases, so you don’t need to, either.

There are also also when you shouldn’t change the tense back. Remember Jenny? You wanted to go for a coffee with her, but she said:

  • “I can’t, I’m watching the World Cup Final.”

Imagine that you want to tell someone what Jenny said, and you talked to her just a few minutes ago.

That means the World Cup Final is still happening, and she’s still watching it.

You would say:

  • She said she can’t come because she’s watching the World Cup Final.

In this case the tense doesn’t change because this thing is happening right now.

Let’s do one more example. I say:

  • “I’m getting really hungry.”

If you want to tell someone what I said a few minutes after I said it, you’d say:

  • Johan said (that) he’s getting very hungry.

…but, if you talk about it tomorrow you would say:

  • Johan said (that) he was getting very hungry.

So, what should you do if you’re not sure whether to change the verb tense or not?

Firstly, don’t worry about it too much. It’s often possible to choose whether you change the verb tense.

Secondly, think about the situation. Are you talking about something which is true or relevant now? If so, it might be better not to change the verb tense.

3. How to Report Speech in the Past

We’ve talked about reporting speech in the present, but what should you do if the direct speech uses past tenses?

Imagine that your friend Matthew says:

  • “I watched every episode of Game of Thrones in one week!”

How would you report that sentence?

You could say:

  • Matthew told me (that) he’d watched every episode of Game of Thrones in one week.

…or you could keep the tense the same:

  • Matthew told me (that) he watched every episode Game of Thrones in one week.

Yes, the past simple can change to the past perfect (had done) or it can stay the same.

In this case, there’s nothing you have to think about. You can choose to change it or not. Native speakers use both, and so can you!

What about the past continuous?

Imagine that Jenny was feeling guilty about turning down your invitation, so she calls you. Unfortunately, your phone was out of battery. Later, Jenny tells you:

  • “I was calling you, but I couldn’t get through.”

How would you report this? Keep it the same:

  • She told me she was calling me, but she couldn’t get through.

In some cases, you might change the past continuous to the past perfect continuous (had been doing).

However, you can’t always do this, and you never need to change the past continuous. So it’s better to remember that the past continuous stays the same in reported speech.

What if the direct speech uses the past perfect? What do you do then?

Imagine that Matthew’s Game of Thrones binge was actually the second time he’d watched the series. He says:

  • “I’d already seen the entire Game of Thrones collection before.”

What would happen to this sentence? Let’s look:

  • He said that he’d already seen the entire Game of Thrones collection before.

So, the past perfect doesn’t change in reported speech. Just keep it the same.

I know what you’re thinking, have I seen the entire Game of Thrones collection, the answer is yes!

4. How to Report Speech in the Present Perfect

What about the present perfect?

Imagine Matthew is boasting about his travels. He says:

  • “I’ve visited 25 countries in total.”

How could you report that? You could say:

  • Matthew said that he’d visited 25 countries in total.

…or, you could leave it the same:

  • Matthew said that he’s visited 25 countries in total.

Like with the other present tenses, you might not change the tense if the situation is still true or relevant now.

For example, if you’re talking about something Matthew said several years ago, you should change the tense and say:

  • Matthew said that he’d visited 25 countries in total.

That’s because Matthew said this a long time ago. He’s probably visited more countries by now.

However, if Matthew told you this yesterday, you could leave the tense the same:

  • Matthew said that he’s visited 25 countries in total.

We can be sure that Matthew hasn’t visited any more countries since yesterday!

Similarly, the present perfect continuous can get pushed back to the past perfect continuous, although depending on the situation you might decide not to change it.

Let’s imagine Jenny has been living abroad and she wants to tell you about it. She says:

  • “I’ve been living in Chile for 2 years.”

How could you report this sentence back to someone? If Jenny said this a long time ago, and she doesn’t live in Chile now, you’d say:

  • Jenny said that she’d been living in Chile for 2 years.

If you’re in Chile with Jenny, and she’s still living there now, you’d probably leave the tense the same:

  • Jenny said that she’s been living in Chile for 2 years.

Again, don’t worry too much about whether to change the tense or not. In many cases, it doesn’t matter if you change the verb tense or not; you can choose what to do.

5. How to Report Speech in the Future

What about future verb forms? How can you report them?

Let’s do an example. Jenny says:

  • “I’m going to visit Mordor next year. I’ll bring you back a present.”

This would change to:

  • Jenny told me (that) she was going to visit Mordor next year, and that she’d bring me back a present.

You can see that am going to changes to was going to, and will changes to would.

Let’s do one more example. Imagine Matthew has decided to give up cigarettes. He says:

  • “I’ll quit smoking! I’m never going to smoke again.”

How would you report that?

  • He told me that he’d quit smoking, and that he was never going to smoke again.

Once again, you don’t need to change the verbs every time. Sometimes, you shouldn’t change the verbs.

If the future time you’re talking about has not yet come then we can stick to will or going to, without changing anything.

Let’s see how this works.

Matthew told you last Friday:

  • “I’ll be in Paris tomorrow!”

Well, he should already be there, so this would become:

  • Matt said he’d be in Paris on Saturday.

If he said this today, and it’s still today, then you shouldn’t change the verb tense:

  • Matt said that he’ll be in Paris tomorrow.

6. How to Report Speech with Modal Verbs

What about modal verbs such as can, must or may?

We already saw one modal verb: will can change to would in reported speech. Another simple modal verb to deal with is can, which changes to could.

For example:

  • “I can come to the party tomorrow.”

How would you report this to someone?

  • He said (that) he could come to the party tomorrow.

However, many modal verbs don’t have an obvious past form, like must, might or could. What can you do with those?

Look at these examples:

  • “I must do better in my grammar studies!”
  • “I could play guitar when I was young.”

How would you put these in reported speech?

  • She said (that) she must do better in her studies of grammar.
  • He said that he could play guitar when he was young.

You can see that the modal verbs don’t change in reported speech if there’s no past form of the modal. That means will changes to would, can changes to could, may changes to might, and other modals generally stay the same.

7. Review

In this lesson, we’ve looked at reported speech, and in particular what happens to verb tenses when you report what someone said.

The general rule for reported speech is to move the verb tense back one step into the past.

For example, the present simple changes to the past simple; the present perfect changes to the past perfect, and so on.

However, you’ve also seen that there are many cases where you don’t need to change the verb, or even cases where you shouldn’t change the verb.

There are two very important things to remember about verb changes in reported speech. What are they?

Firstly, don’t overthink it! Many English learners get very confused about whether they should change the verb tense or not. It’s often possible to choose, and no one will notice if you change the verb or leave it the same.

Secondly, pay attention to the situation and the meaning of what you’re saying. If you’re talking about something in the past, it makes more sense to change the verb tense when you report speech.

On the other hand, if you’re talking about something which is still true or relevant now, then it often makes sense to leave the verb the same.

 

Reported Speech Quiz

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Oli RedmanReported Speech – Video Lesson