What is direct and reported speech?
Kate: "I like chips." direct speech
Kate says she likes chips. reported speech
Direct speech is a quotation. It's a statement that somebody expresses orally or in writing. Sometimes we want to tell someone else what the other person said: we call it reported speech. In the reported speech, we use phrases like "she said (that)", "he claims (that)", "they told us (that)".
To transfer a positive or a negative sentence into reported speech, we need two parts:
- the main part ("she said (that)", "he claims (that)", "they told us (that)"),
- the dependent part which is transformed direct speech.
In the reported speech, we must replace the pronouns. Otherwise, we won't keep the sense.
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 is optional: you can keep it or leave it out. Both options are possible.
Martin says that he wants to take a break.
Martin says he wants to take a break.
Backshifting of tenses
In English, there's one special thing about the reported speech. The tense in the main part of the sentence (He said that...) affects the tense in the dependent part.
If the main part is in the present tense, we don't have to change the tense. The dependent part remains in its initial tense.
Linda: "I am tired." Linda says she is tired.
Morris: "I've got work to do." Morris says he's got work to do.
Bella and Thomas: "We are going to the party." Bella and Thomas say they are going to the party.
However, if the main part is in the past tense (she said that..., he told us that...), we do the "backshifting" of the tense in the dependent part. Look at the table below. Backshifting helps us balance two parts of the sentence by shifting the dependant part one tense back to the past.
|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.
Sometimes when we speak about facts that are always or still true, it is acceptable not to change the present tense to the past.
The teacher said that the Equator is about 40,000 km long. OR The teacher said that the Equator was about 40,000 km long.
— Is John still in hospital? — Yes, he told me he is still there. OR — Yes, he told me he was still there.
For learning purposes, we will stick to the table in the exercises. That means we won't be using the present tense if we have the past simple in the main part.