Reported / indirect speech

We use the reported or indirect speech when we want to tell or report what someone said.

So, direct speech is what someone says, the actual words :

I am vegan

and we report using a reporting verbsaytell and changing the tense (one step back) of what was actually said :

➣She said that she was vegan

Apart from changing the tense of the verb, there is also a change of pronoun :

I becomesShe

Backshift changes – one step back

Backshift refers to the changes we make in indirect speech because time has passed between the moment of speaking and the time of the report. So:

Present simplebecomes
Past simple
Past simplebecomes

Past perfect

Present continuousbecomes

Past continuous
Present perfect becomes

Past perfect
Present perfect continuousbecomes

Past perfect continuous
Past continuousbecomes

Past perfect continuous
Past perfectbecomes

Past perfect (does not shift back)


“We are vegan”
They said they were vegan
“They adopted a cat”
They told me they had adopted a cat
“I will fight for animals!”
He promised that he would fight for animals
“I am freeing birds from cages”
Ariadna declared that she was freeing birds from cages
“I have never been to a zoo!”
John stated that he had never been to a zoo
“We have been helping wild animals”
They claimed that they had been helping wild animals
“I was feeding them”
He mentioned he had been feeding them
“You had never loved me!”
My partner complained that I had never loved him
In these examples, the present (are) has become the past (were), the past (adopted) has become the past perfect (had adopted) and the future (will) has become the conditional (would). The tenses have ‘shifted’ or ‘moved back’ in time. NOTE! THAT is frequently omitted 

more examples

“Animals do not deserve being held in captivity”
The scientist explained that animals did not deserve being held in captivity
“Men did not abolish slavery until as recently as 1963″
Obama reminded that men had not abolished slavery until as recently as 1963
“Forgive me!! I won’t lie to you again”
He promised that he wouldn’t lie to me again
We aren’t using fossil fuels”
The activists boasted that they weren’t using fossil fuels
PETA hasn’t stopped advocating for animal rights”
He denied that PETA had stopped advocating for animal rights

Reporting imperatives

The infinitive is used to report imperatives or commands

The mum told her child to be nice

The mum told her child not to cry

Saytell and ask are the most common reporting verbs for commands. Promiseremindwarnadviserecommendencourage or order are also used

Direct speech : ‘Be quiet!’

Reported command : The teacher ordered the students to be quiet

Policeman in full tactical gear riot police officer with shield

Direct speech : ‘Go home! It’s going to get nasty’

Reported command : The officer warned/ advised/ recommended us to go home because it was going to get nasty

Reporting questions

Reporting yes/no questions

The reported clause is introduced by if or whether (interchangeably)

Direct question : Are you vegan?

Reported question : She asked me if I was vegan

Direct question : Did you eat chickpeas or kidney beans?

Reported question : He asked me whether I had eaten chickpeas or kidney beans

Reporting wh-questions

The reported clause is introduced by a wh-word :

who, what, which, when, where, why, how

Direct question : What kind of beans will you eat?

Reported question : The cook asked me what kind of beans I would eat

Direct question : How did you make them?

Reported question : The dinner guests asked me how I had made them

Typical errors in indirect questions

🔀The word order in indirect wh-questions is the same as in statements ➬ subject + verb—————so …⚡ there is no inversion ⚡

➬”Where is it?” ☛ I asked where it was ( subject + verb )

Not: I asked her where was it

➬ “Why is our dog barking?” ☛ My son asked why our dog was barking

Not: why was our dog barking

➬ “Why did you invite him?” ☛ She asked why we had invited him

Not:  why had we invited him

➬ “Where do your parents live?” ☛ She wanted to know where my parents lived

🔀 A question mark isn’t used when reporting questions

They asked what it was ?

🔀 When who is the subject of the sentence ➫

Direct question : “Who lives there?

Reported question : The neighbours asked who lived there

Direct question : “Who will give the lecture?

Reported question : The audience wondered who would give the lecture 

Direct question : “Who came to our house?

Reported question : Our parents inquired who had come to their house

Reporting modal verbs

Some modal verbs shift back in indirect speech

can feed the dogs too’ He added that he could feed the dogs too
can becomes could
Shall I walk them?’ She asked if she should walk them
shall becomes should
Sue may become vegan’
May I go to the toilet?
Her friends told me that Sue might become vegan
He asked if he could go to the toilet
may (possibility) becomes might
may (permission) becomes could
‘All animals must be respected’

It must be awful to spend
your life in a cage’
They explained that all animals had to be respected
They agreed that it must be awful to to spend your life in a cage
must (obligation) usually becomes had to must (certainty) does not change
‘We could adopt this blind kittenThey suggested they could adopt that blind kitten
there is no change
We should adopt her immediately’ They proposed they should adopt her immediately
there is no change
It might rain soonHe warned that it might rain soon
there is no change

Sometimes, depending on the situation, the modal perfect is used to report a direct statement with a modal verb:

Direct speech: ‘It might be Juan at the door’

Reported probability in the past: They said it might have been Juan at the door

more examples

No backshift. There is no change in:
You needn’t come
with me’
I told her she needn’t come with me
I used to eat fish
and meat before!’
She exclaimed that she used to eat fish and meat before
 ‘You ought to leave
the premises
The guard advised us that we ought to leave the premises
OR —————-☞☞The guard advised us to leave the premises

Changes in pronouns

Pronouns have to change if the person reporting the speech is not the same person who said the actual words (direct speech)


I don’t want to hurt animals’  my son said My son said he didn’t want to hurt animals
different speakers (I changes to he)

I’ll take care of the cats,’ I said ☞I said I would take care of the cats
same speaker (no change)

Changes in demonstratives and adverbs

yesterdaythe day before
tomorrowthe next or the following day
two weeks agotwo weeks before


direct speech————————————-indirect speech
‘I saw you here
in the mall yesterday
I told him I saw him there in the mall the day before
‘We will go to the pound
She told us we would go to the pound the next day / the following day
I want to have dinner 
She said he wanted to have dinner then / at that moment
I finished my homework 
three days ago!!
The boy protested that he had finished his homework three days before

summing up