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O11 Reported Speech

Lesson Eleven

Reported Speech /

Indirect Speech

When someone says something, how do you describe it to another person? This lesson will focus on reported speech, or you can call it "indirect speech."

Direct speech: "This meat smells bad," said Tom.

Indirect Speech: Tom said that the meat smelled bad.

Notice that the spoken words are in quotation marks:

"This meat smells bad."

The verb "smells" is in the present tense.

It changes to "smelled" — the past tense.

The chart below shows the sequence of tenses and how verbs change when using indirect speech:

The Sequence of Tenses

      Original Tense Changed to….  

Present Past

Present Continuous Past Continuous

 Past Past Perfect  

Present Perfect Past Perfect

 will would

   can could

 may might

 Practice. Write your answers on a piece of paper. Then look below for the correct verb choices.

  1. "I will be ready by 10:00" She said that she ______ be ready by 10:00.
  2. "The mail isn’t here yet."  He said that the mail _______here yet.
  3. "They have lived here 10 years."   Bill said they ________ here 10 years.
  4. "Is it going to rain today?" She asked if it _____________ to rain today.
  5. "Joe knows a lot of people." He said that Joe ________ a lot of people.
  6. "Can you play the guitar?" She asked me if I _________ play the guitar.

Answers: 1. would; 2. wasn’t; 3. had lived; 4. was going; 5. knew; 6. could

Indirect speech for a question usually uses "if" or "whether" in the sentence. Notice that #4 and #6 are not written with a question mark. That’s because the speaker is describing the question, not asking it.


Here are some more examples:

"I love this baby very much," said the mother.

The mother said that she loved her baby.


The mother said she loved her baby.

(In this sentence "that" is optional)

"My daughter graduated from college," said John.

John said that his daughter had graduated from college.


John said his daughter had graduated from college.


John said his daughter graduated from college. (This doesn’t follow the sequence of tenses, but it’s a little mistake which most people won’t notice.

"Can we ride on the bike again?" the students asked.


The students asked if they could ride on the bike again.


The students asked whether they could ride on the bike again.

Remember to use if or whether when describing a question.

If you’re still confused, this video might help:


Now try this exercise.


This next video will help you with describing questions:


Now try this exercise.

Click here for a quiz.

In the next lesson, you will learn about the future conditional

Next: Lesson 12

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