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“My name is Jonathan and I’m from Kent.” This is DIRECT SPEECH
I told him that my name was Jonathan and I was from Kent. This is REPORTED SPEECH
“Where did you go last Saturday?” This is DIRECT SPEECH
Dave asked me where I had gone last Saturday/the Saturday before. REPORTED SPEECH
“Sit down and don’t make any noise!” This is DIRECT SPEECH
His mother told him to sit down and not to make any noise. This is REPORTED SPEECH
That is Reported or Indirect Speech. Let’s look at how to use it:
AFFIRMATIVE / NEGATIVE SENTENCES
The basic idea is quite simple. When you are reporting what somebody has said, you are talking about a statement that has been made in the past. To make this clear, you must take one step back in the tense, from Present to Past, Past to Past Perfect, Future to Conditional, etc.
Look at this conversation:
JANE: I saw Samantha yesterday. She said that she had just come back from holiday in Riviera Maya.
MARK: Oh? She told me that she was going to Mexico, and that she would be there for two weeks…
JANE: Riviera Maya is in Mexico, stupid- and she was there for two weeks- she left on the 7th!!
The conversations with Samantha happened in the past: Jane saw Samantha, Samantha was in Mexico two weeks, and she left on the 7th, but what Samantha said changes tense:
She said that she had just come back from holiday in Riviera Maya the day before = Samantha: “I’ve just come back from Riviera Maya.”
She told me that she was going to Mexico, and that she would be there for two weeks = Samantha: “I’m going to Mexico. I’ll be there for two weeks.”
These are the transformations…
PRESENT – PAST
“I live in Spain but I am going back to England this weekend.” – He said that he lived in Spain, and that he was going back to England next / the following weekend.
PAST – PAST PERFECT
“It was raining yesterday, so I didn’t do anything.” – He told me that it had been raining yesterday / the day before, so he hadn’t done anything.
PRESENT PERFECT – PAST PERFECT
“I haven’t been to South America.” – I told them that I hadn’t been to South America.
WILL/WON’T (Shall, when similar to Will)– WOULD(n’t)
“I’ll finish it tomorrow.” – She said that she would finish it tomorrow / the next day.
CAN – COULD
“I can iron but I can’t sew.” – I told her I could iron but I couldn’t sew.
MUST – HAD TO (affirmative only)
“You must tell me.” – We told them that they had to tell me.
These do not change…….
WOULD / SHOULD / COULD
MIGHT / MAY / MUSTN’T (negative only)
None of this is written in stone, and depends on the logic of the sentence. Imagine that your friend tells you this in October:
“I’m going to spend this Christmas with my in-laws”
In November you explain the situation to your wife:
“He told me he’s going to spend Christmas with his in-laws.”
It’s not the same situation as Samantha’s holiday in Mexico, because the future arrangements are still valid. You don’t need to say ‘…the following Christmas.’ Don’t let the grammar rules get in the way of logic! As a general rule, you can use your native language as a guide.
The same applies to other parts of the sentence referring to Time and Place. If somebody tells you……
“We went to the cinema yesterday.”
……and you mention this to somebody else on the same day, ‘yesterday’ applies and is still valid. If a day or two has passed, it would not be correct to say ‘yesterday’ and you would have to say ‘the day before’. This applies to all of these expressions:
Today – That day
Last week / month / year – The week / month / year before
Next week / month / year – The following week / month / year
3 weeks ago – 3 weeks before
The day after tomorrow – 2 days later
This week / these days– That week / those days
Here – There
Again, you can use your own language as reference in these cases.
In the examples above , I have used ‘said’ and ‘told’. Remember that ‘told’ must be followed by an object (him, them, me, David, the neighbour, my boss….) and ‘said’ is not followed by an object.
‘…that…’ as a clause in the sentence (I told him that….) can be suppressed when followed by an object. Most native English speakers do not include this, but it is perfectly correct in both cases:
“I´ll phone you in the next three or four days.”
He said (that) he would phone me in the following three or four days.
The most important thing to remember is that a Reported Question is not a question!
“Where do you live?” DIRECT QUESTION
She asked me where I lived. REPORTED QUESTION
“Where’s Stephen?” DIRECT SPEECH
I asked them where Stephen was. REPORTED SPEECH
When you are reporting you are simply telling someone what the question was. This means that the the structure of the sentence is affirmative and does not use the structure of a question:
Subject before Verb (‘I asked them where Stephen was.’ NOT ‘….where was Stephen.’)
Do not use DO or DID as Auxiliary (‘She asked me where I lived.’ NOT ‘…..where did I live.’)
Apart from this, you apply the same guidelines as for Affirmative/Negative sentences- One Step Back (Will – Would, Present – Past, etc.) and changing some expressions (Today – Yesterday, This time – That time) if necessary.
“Where have you been this week?”
My teacher asked me where (subject before verb) I had been all this (if it is still ‘this’) / that week.
Remember that if there is no question word (where, who, what,how many….) you have to put ‘if’, just as in your native language.
“Did you see Georgina yesterday?”
Georgina’s parents asked us if (subject before verb) we had seen her yesterday (If it is still ‘yesterday’) / the day before.
Try with these three examples. The answers are just below:
1. “Will it rain tomorrow?” I WAS ASKED…
2. “Do you like carrots?” THEY ASKED US….
3. “Are you Mexican?” WE ASKED THEM…..
‘Shall……?’ changes to ‘Should’ in Reported form. This is valid for the modern / common / question form to suggest something, not the traditional use (‘They shall not pass!’) similar to ‘will’. This uses ‘would’.
“Shall we sit?” = He asked if we should sit.
(…although most people would say: ‘He suggested that we sat.’ We will look at this later.)
1. I was asked if it would rain tomorrow/the next day.
2. They asked us if we liked carrots.
3. We asked them if they were Mexican.
“Please come in…”
“Don’t smoke here!”
Forget everything you have read up to now in this article for this aspect of Reported Speech. This is completely different and uses a different structure. The good news is that it is very simple, once you get used to using it.
This is the best example, and the one I always use. In fact, it is not reported speech, but it uses the same structure (Grammar definitions not reflecting real use of language). Look at this sentence:
“I want to go to the supermarket.”
Now you have to add one word to change the meaning (‘Quiero que tu vayas al supermercado’). This can be used as an example for all similar structures. In Spanish:
‘Quiero que hagas…’
‘Le dije que fuera…’
‘Le avisé que no dijese….’
‘Voy a pedirles que ayuden….’
– I want you to go to the supermarket.
Normally, a Spanish (and I think Portugese/Italian/French) speaker would make the mistake of using ‘that…’. Look at these examples:
“It’s raining” (Affirmative Sentence)
I told him (that) it was raining. (Information)
“Take an umbrella” (Imperative)
I told him to take an umbrella. (Instructions)
The structure is (Subject + Verb + Object + (not) to + Infinitive + Rest of sentence). Try with the examples at the beginning of this section.
I told the students to be quiet.
“Please come in…”
They asked me to come in.
“Don’t smoke here!”
They told us not to smoke here/there.
As you can see, if somebody says ‘please’ it is more logical to use ‘ask’ than ‘tell’, but there are many more options. As you can see, this structure is very common, very useful, and can be used in different ways, overlapping in some cases what we have seen in the other parts of Reported Speech…
They invited us to join them. (“Why don’t you join us?”)
We warned them not to climb that wall. (“It’s not a good idea to climb this wall.”)
She advised me to ask an expert. (“You should ask an expert.”)
I refused to take him. (“I’m not going to take you!”)
Mark agreed to help me. (“OK- I’ll help you”)
I begged her to stay. (“Please please stay!!!”)
My friends persuaded me to go out the next day. (“Come out with us tomorrow!”)
My mother encouraged me to play the piano. (“It would be wonderful if you could play the piano.”)
There are other words which use a different structure: ‘+…ing’ without the object. These are:
They recommended wearing warm clothes for the mountain. (“You should wear warm clothes…”)
I suggested stopping for lunch (“Shall we stop for lunch?”)
This is the general idea. Remember that grammar rules are no replacement for logic. Many things depend on the context of the conversation. Take this sentence as an example-
“Shall we eat out next Friday?” said James
These are all possible reports:
1. James suggested eating out next Friday.
2. James suggested eating out the following Friday.
3. James asked (us) if we should eat out next Friday.
4. James asked (us) if we should eat the following Friday.
5. James said (that) we should eat out next Friday.
6. James said (that) we should eat out the following Friday.
The exam answer is almost certainly number 4. My preference (the most commonly used and natural) would be 1 or 2, depending on whether the Friday in question was past or present, or 5 or 6.
Now try this exercise:
– Write in CAPITAL LETTERS ONLY.
– Do not use contracted forms (Don’t, you’ll, etc.)
– Change time and situation expressions for this exercise (Next week = The following week, this= that, etc)