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We often have to give information about what people say or think. In order to do this you can use direct or quoted speech, or indirect or reported speech.

Direct Speech / Quoted Speech

Saying exactly what someone has said is called direct speech (sometimes called quoted speech)

Here what a person says appears within quotation marks ("...") and should be word for word.

For example:

She said, "Today's lesson is on presentations."

Some people introduce a direct quote with a colon, and not a comma.

For example:

She said: "Today's lesson is on presentations."

When you lead with the quote, you use a comma.

For example:

"Today's lesson is on presentations," she said.

We use the same rules to report what people have written or thought. (Some people use italics.)

For example:

"I can do this," he thought. / I can do this, he thought.


"I can do this," he wrote.

Indirect Speech / Reported Speech

Indirect speech (sometimes called reported speech), doesn't use quotation marks to enclose what the person said and it doesn't have to be word for word.

When reporting speech the tense usually changes. This is because when we use reported speech, we are usually talking about a time in the past (because obviously the person who spoke originally spoke in the past). The verbs therefore usually have to be in the past too.

For example:

Direct speech / Quoted speech Indirect speech / Reported speech
"I'm going to the cinema," he said. He said he was going to the cinema.
"We could go to the cinema," he thought. He thought we could go to the cinema.

Tense change

As a rule when you report something someone has said you go back a tense: (the tense on the left changes to the tense on the right):

Direct speech   Indirect speech

Present simple
She said, "It's cold."

Past simple
She said it was cold.
Present continuous
She said, "I'm teaching English online."
Past continuous
She said she was teaching English online.
Present perfect simple
She said, "I've been on the web since 1999."
Past perfect simple
She said she had been on the web since 1999.
Present perfect continuous
She said, "I've been teaching English for seven years."
Past perfect continuous
She said she had been teaching English for seven years.
Past simple
She said, "I taught online yesterday."
Past perfect
She said she had taught online yesterday.
Past continuous
She said, "I was teaching earlier."
Past perfect continuous
She said she had been teaching earlier.
Past perfect
She said, "The lesson had already started when he arrived."
Past perfect
NO CHANGE - She said the lesson had already started when he arrived.
Past perfect continuous
She said, "I'd already been teaching for five minutes."
Past perfect continuous
NO CHANGE - She said she'd already been teaching for five minutes.

Many modal verb forms also change:

Direct speech   Indirect speech
She said, "I'll teach English online tomorrow."
She said she would teach English online tomorrow.

She said, "I can teach English online."

She said she could teach English online.
She said, "I must have a computer to teach English online."
had to
She said she had to have a computer to teach English online.
She said, "What shall we learn today?"
She asked what we should learn today.
She said, "May I open a new browser?"
She asked if she might open a new browser.

!Note - There is no change to; could, would, should, might and ought to.

Direct speech Indirect speech
"I might go to the cinema," he said. He said he might go to the cinema.

You can use the present tense in reported speech if you want to say that something is still true, i.e. my name has always been and will always be Lynne so:-

Direct speech Indirect speech
"My name is Lynne," she said.

She said her name was Lynne.


She said her name is Lynne.

You can also use the present tense if you are talking about a future event.

Direct speech (exact quote) Indirect speech (not exact)
"Next week's lesson is on reported speech," she said.

She said next week's lesson will be on reported speech.

Time change

If the reported sentence contains an expression of time, you must change it to fit in with the time of reporting.

For example we need to change words like here and yesterday if they have different meanings at the time and place of reporting.

Now + 24 hours - Indirect speech
"Today's lesson is on presentations."

She said yesterday's lesson was on presentations.


She said yesterday's lesson would be on presentations.

Expressions of time if reported on a different day
this (evening) that (evening)
today yesterday ...
these (days) those (days)
now then
(a week) ago (a week) before
last weekend the weekend before last / the previous weekend
here there
next (week) the following (week)
tomorrow the next/following day

In addition if you report something that someone said in a different place to where you heard it you must change the place (here) to the place (there).

For example:-

At work At home
"How long have you worked here?" She asked me how long I'd worked there.

Pronoun change

In reported speech, the pronoun often changes.

For example:

Me You

"I teach English online."

Direct Speech

She said, "I teach English online."

"I teach English online," she said.

Reported Speech

She told me she teaches English online.


She told me she taught English online.

Reporting Verbs

Said, told and asked are the most common verbs used in indirect speech.

We use asked to report questions:-

For example: I asked Lynne what time the lesson started.

We use told with an object.

For example: Lynne told me she felt tired.

!Note - Here me is the object.

We usually use said without an object.

For example: Lynne said she was going to teach online.

If said is used with an object we must include to ;

For example: Lynne said to me that she'd never been to China.

!Note - We usually use told.

For example: Lynne told me (that) she'd never been to China.

There are many other verbs we can use apart from said, told and asked.

These include:-

accused, admitted, advised, alleged, agreed, apologised, begged, boasted, complained, denied, explained, implied, invited, offered, ordered, promised, replied, suggested etc.

Using them properly can make what you say much more interesting and informative.

For example:

He asked me to come to the party:-

He invited me to the party.
He begged me to come to the party.
He ordered me to come to the party.
He advised me to come to the party.
He suggested I should come to the party.

Use of 'That' in reported speech

In reported speech, the word that is often used.

For example: He told me that he lived in Greenwich.

However, that is optional.

For example: He told me he lived in Greenwich.

!Note - That is never used in questions, instead we often use if.

For example: He asked me if I would come to the party.

Sneaky punctuation

"I didn't notice that the comma was inside the quotation marks," Lynne said, "but Hekner did."

No one has ever set the rules of English language in stone. It's a flexible language, and the rules that exist have arisen through usage, and they can change in exactly the same way, so maybe it doesn't matter, but it's best to be consistent. (Thanks to Hekner and Clare Pearson for their contribution.)

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