Speech can be direct and indirect, or reported.
When you express your thought orally or in writing, it is direct speech. We usually put it in quotes.
When you communicate what someone else said, it is reported speech.
Sue: "I am hungry."
Sue says (that) she is hungry.
To transfer a positive or a negative sentence to reported speech, we need two parts:
- the main part (she says that... / he claims that... / they deny that...),
- the dependent part which is the transformed direct speech.
In the reported speech, we must replace the pronouns. Otherwise, we won't keep the meaning.
Mary: "I am glad to help you!"
Mary says she is glad to help me. BUT NOT Mary says I am glad to help you.
You should also be careful with time indicators (today, now, next week etc.) not to lose the idea of the original direct statement.
The word that can be used or left out, both options are correct.
Backshift of tenses in reported speech
When we have a sentence that consists of the main and the dependent part we need to be careful with the verb tenses. The tense in the main part affects the tense in the dependent part. This is called backshifting.
If the main part is in the present simple (e.g., "she says...", "he tells me..."), the dependent part remains unchanged.
John: "I have just got up."
John says he has just got up. "Says" is the present simple → no backshifting
If the main part is in the past simple, we have to do the backshifting. Its basic principle is that the past simple in the main part "pushes" the tense of the dependent part one step back in time. This way we balance both parts of the sentence.
|tense||changes to||direct speech||he said...|
|present simple →
||I don't have a pen
||He said he didn't have a pen
|present continuous →
||I am having a shower
||He said he was having a shower
|present perfect →
||I haven't finished yet
||He said he hadn't finished yet
|past simple →
||past perfect OR
|I didn't like the film
||He said he hadn't liked the film OR
He said he didn't like the film
|past continuous →
||past perfect continuous
||I was reading a book
||He said he had been reading a book
||I will help you
||He said he would help me
||I can ride a horse
||He said he could ride a horse
You can view the topic 'reported statements' with an explanation and exercises.
If the direct question began with a question word (when, what, how, why and so on), then in the reported speech:
- the sentence changes from question to positive, with a direct word order
- we need to do the backshifting if we have the past simple in the main part
"Why did you leave the door open?" → She asked me why I had left the door open.
"Where have you been?" → She asked me where I had been.
If the direct question didn't have a question word (it was a yes/no question), we add the word "if" to transform it into reported speech. The rules of backshifting are the same.
"Will it rain tomorrow?" → They wanted to know if it would rain the next day.
"Can I lend your pen for a second?" → I asked if I could lend his pen for a second.
You can also view the topic 'reported questions' for a detailed explanation and exercises.
Reported requests and demands
If we want to transform somebody's demand or request into reported speech, we say:
- tell somebody to do something — for reported commands
- ask somebody to do something — for reported requests
If the imperative was negative (don't go, don't do), we put "not" before "to": tell somebody not to do something.
"Do not cross the red line, please!" → The officer told us not to cross the red line.
"Could you put the flowers in the vase, please?" → She asked me to put the flowers in the vase.
You can also view the topic 'reported requests & demands' for a detailed explanation and exercises.