Reported Speech: Examples and Exercises

In English, there are two different ways to say what someone else said: direct speech and reported speech

Direct speech means to say exactly what someone else said by using quotation marks around their words. 


Examples:

  • We will be arriving at 2:00,” the pilot said.
  • The teacher said, “You may begin your quiz now.” 

quiz

Reported speech (also called indirect speech) is when we tell someone what a person, newspaper, book, or something else said without using their exact words. 


Examples:

  • Direct Speech: “The meeting is tomorrow,” he said.
  • Reported Speech: He said that the meeting is tomorrow.

  • Direct Speech: “The weather was beautiful,” she stated.
  • Reported Speech: She told me that the weather was beautiful.

  • Direct Speech: She said, “I worked there on Mondays.”
  • Reported speech: She said she had worked there on Mondays.

  • Direct Speech: “I am sorry,” he cried.
  • Reported Speech: He said he was sorry. 

sorry

In reported speech, we often change the tense of the verbs. This is called backshifting.


Learn more about Direct and Reported Speech in English with this workbook: Direct Speech and Reported Speech


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Backshifting Verbs in Reported Speech

When you quote someone in direct speech, you do not need to change any words. You simply put the exact statement between quotation marks. 

But when you report a statement in reported speech, you usually need to make some changes to the verbs. When reporting what someone said in the past, the tenses of the verbs in the reported statement often go one step backwards. This is called a backshift

report


Examples:

  • Direct Speech: “The dog is tired,” she stated.
  • Reported Speech: She told me that the dog was tired.

In the example above, the verb tense backshifts from simple present (is tired) to the simple past (was tired). 

  • Direct Speech: She said, “I baked the cake.”
  • Reported Speech: She said that she had baked the cake.
a woman baking

In this example, the verb tense backshifts from simple past (baked) to the past perfect (had baked). 

Some grammar books will tell you that you should always backshift verbs in reported speech, but native speakers do not always do that. 

For example: She said that she baked the cake.

Here are a few tips to help you decide if you should or should not backshift. 

1) If the direct speech is already in past tense, native speakers do not usually backshift. 

    Example:

    • Direct Speech: “We purchased a new car,” he stated.
    • Reported Speech: He stated that they purchased a new car.

    You can change the past tense to past perfect to emphasize that it happened in the past, but native speakers do not always do this.

    • He stated that they had purchased a new car. 

    cars

    In this example, had is optional. Many native speakers would not use it.


    2) If the direct speech is in the present tense, and what the person said is still true, then you do not need to backshift.


      Example:

      • Direct Speech: “That restaurant serves healthy food,” Sara said.
      • Reported Speech: She said that the restaurant serves healthy food.

       restaurant

      If the restaurant still serves healthy food, then you do not need to backshift because the statement is still true. It is acceptable to backshift, but not necessary.

      However, if the situation has changed, and the statement is no longer true, then you should backshift. 

      For example, if the restaurant is no longer in business or does not serve healthy food options anymore, then you should backshift to the past tense because the statement is now false.

      • She said that the restaurant served healthy food.

      healthy food

      3) Some English modal verbs do not backshift. These include would, should, could, might, ought to, must have, could have, should have, and would have.

        Examples:

        • Direct Speech: “You should watch the movie,” Tim said.
        • Reported Speech: Tim said I should watch the movie.

        • Direct Speech: “I would have called you if you had asked,” she replied.
        • Reported Speech: She told me that she would have called me if I had asked.

        talking on the phone


        Reported Questions

        A reported question is when we tell someone what another person asked. The most common reporting verb for questions is asked.


        Examples:

        • Direct Speech: “Do you need help?” he asked.
        • Reported Speech: He asked me if I needed help.
        • Direct Speech: “Did you say goodbye?” she wondered.
        • Reported Speech: She asked me if I had said goodbye.
          (Also acceptable: She asked me if I said goodbye.)

        • Direct Speech: “What time should you arrive,” my mother questioned.
        • Reported Speech: My mother asked what time we should arrive.

        a woman visiting

        Notice when reporting questions, you do not need a question mark. The sentence is a statement, not a question. 

        Using “That” in Reported Speech

        In reported speech, the word that is optional. 


        Examples:

        • She said that she walked the dog this morning. 
        • She said she walked the dog this morning.

        • They told me that they would arrive by midnight. 
        • They told me they would arrive by midnight. 
        • My father said that I should help.
        • My father said I should help.

        father and son fishing

        Practice 

        Part A: Complete the reported speech for each pair of sentences. There may be more than one correct answer.


        Example: 

        “It was a good movie,” Steven told me.

        Steven told me [that] it was a good movie.

        1. The doctor said, “You should exercise more.”

          The doctor said ______________________________________________

        2. “I will text you tomorrow,” she promised.

          She promised ______________________________________________

        3. “I can help you,” my brother said.

          My brother said ______________________________________________

        4. “You are going to be late!” he warned.

          He warned me ______________________________________________

        5. The teacher said, “I will not accept late work.”

          The teacher said ______________________________________________

        6. “We went out last night,” Larry declared.

          Larry said ______________________________________________

        7. Mom said, “You should brush your teeth.”

          Mom told me ______________________________________________

        8. “The baby was sleeping when Nick arrived,” she stated.

          She told me ______________________________________________

        9. “He hadn’t been there before,” they said.

          They said ______________________________________________

        10. The girl cried, “I do not like onions!”

          The girl told me  ______________________________________________

        Part B: Change each direct question into a reported question.

        Example:

        “Is your brother at home?” he asked me.

        He asked me if my brother was at home.

        1. “Are you from London?” she asked.

          She asked me if ______________________________________________

        2. He wondered, “Is the bus stop next to the train station?”

          He asked me if ______________________________________________

        3. “Is this bread fresh?” Tom asked.

          Tom asked me if ______________________________________________

        4. Lilly questioned, “Do you drink tea?”

          Lilly asked me if ______________________________________________

        5. “Do you like your job?” Tina wondered.

          Tina asked me if ______________________________________________

        6. Stacy asked, “Will you walk to school with me?”

          Stacy asked if ______________________________________________

        7. “What are you doing?” the teacher wondered.

          The teacher asked me ______________________________________________

        8. “How often do you visit your mother?” she asked.

          She asked me ______________________________________________

        9. “Where is Elm Street?” he wanted to know.

          He asked me ______________________________________________

        10. She questioned, “Do you like milk in your coffee?”

          She asked me if ______________________________________________

        Part C: Retell John’s story in reported speech by filling in the blanks with the correct form of the verbs.

        DIRECT SPEECH VERSION:

        John said, “Last weekend, I visited San Francisco, California. Have you been there? I have actually never been there before. I had planned to visit my sister there, but she was out of town for work. So, I toured the city alone. I saw many sights. I drove over the Golden Gate Bridge. It is almost 2 miles long! Then, I took a ferry to Alcatraz Island. I toured the prison. It was spooky! I may have seen a ghost… I also saw the Golden Gate Park. It is so beautiful! I will definitely visit again in the future. On my last day, I spent time in Chinatown. I was eating a traditional Chinese dinner, when I realized there is one more destination I must visit. So I took a tour of the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. My fortune cookie said, ‘A true traveler’s journey is never complete.’ That is true because I am already planning my next journey! Would you like to come with me?”


        REPORTED SPEECH VERSION:

        John told me that he _________________ San Francisco, California, last weekend.  He _________________ me if I had _________________ there. He said that he had never actually _________________ there before. John mentioned that he had _________________ to _________________ his sister there, but she _________________  out of town for work, so he _________________ the city alone. He told me that he _____ many sights. He described how he had _________________ over the Golden Gate Bridge. He mentioned that it _________________ almost 2 miles long! Then, John recalled that he _________________ a ferry to Alcatraz Island and _________________ the prison. John explained that it _________________ spooky, and that he _________________ a ghost there! John continued by telling me that he _________________ the Golden Gate Park. John emphasized that it _________________ beautiful, and that he _________________ definitely _________________ again. On his last day, John said that he _________________ time in Chinatown. He remembered that he had _________________ a traditional Chinese dinner, when he _________________ that there was one more destination to visit. He explained that he _________________ the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. He commented that his fortune cookie had said that his journey _________________ never _________________ complete. John said that it _________________ true because he _________________ already _________________ his next journey. He asked me if I _________________ like to _________________ with him!

        San Francisco bridge

        Answers: 

        Part A: There may be more than one correct answer. (Remember, that is optional.)

        1. The doctor said you should exercise more. 
          The doctor said that you should exercise more.

        2. She promised she would text me tomorrow.
          She promised that she would text me tomorrow.

        3. My brother said he could help me.
          My brother said that he could help me.

        4. He warned me I was going to be late.
          He warned me that I was going to be late.

        5. The teacher said she would not accept late work.
          The teacher said that she would not accept late work.

        6. Larry said they went out last night.
          Larry said that they went out last night.
          Larry said that they had gone out last night.

        7. Mom told me to brush my teeth.
          Mom told me I should brush my teeth.
          Mom told me that I should brush my teeth.

        8. She told me the baby had been sleeping when Nick arrived.
          She told me that the baby had been sleeping when Nick arrived.

        9. They said he hadn’t been there before.
          They said that he hadn’t been there before.

        10. The girl told me she did not like onions.
          The girls told me that she did not like onions.

        Part B:

        1. She asked me if I was from London.
        2. He asked me if the bus stop was next to the train station.
        3. Tom asked me if the bread was fresh.
        4. Lily asked me if I drank tea.
        5. Tina asked me if I liked my job.
        6. Stacy asked if I would walk to school with her
        7. The teacher asked me what I was doing
        8. She asked me how often I visited my mother.
        9. He asked me where Elm Street was.
        10. She asked me if I liked milk in my coffee.

        Part C:

        John told me that he visited San Francisco, California, last weekend.  He asked me if I had been there. He said that he had never actually been there before. John mentioned that he had planned to visit his sister there, but she was out of town for work, so he toured the city alone. He told me that he saw many sights. He described how he had driven over the Golden Gate Bridge. He mentioned that it is almost 2 miles long! Then, John recalled that he took a ferry to Alcatraz Island and toured the prison. John explained that it was spooky, and that he might have seen a ghost there! John continued by telling me that he saw the Golden Gate Park. John emphasized that it was beautiful, and that he would definitely visit again. On his last day, John said that he spent time in Chinatown. He remembered that he had been eating a traditional Chinese dinner, when he realized that there was one more destination to visit. He explained that he toured the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory. He commented that his fortune cookie had said that his journey would never be complete. John said that it was true because he was already planning his next journey. He asked me if I would like to go with him!