English grammar - reported speech

- - Reported speech


  1. In reported speech we usually report what was said at a different time, and so we change the tense to reflect the time which we are reporting. We normally "shift back" one tense.
    • Direct speech: "I'm not playing football."
      Reported later: "He said that he wasn't playing football."
  2. Sometimes we need to change the pronoun.
    • Direct speech: Jane: "I don't like living here." (Jane is referring to herself)
      Reported speech: Jane said (that) she didn't like living here. (The pronoun she refers to Jane)
  3. We may also need to change other words about place and time.
    • Direct speech: "I like this car."
      Reported speech: He said (that) he liked that car.
    • Direct speech: "I went to Tokyo last week."
      Reported speech: She said (that) she'd been to Tokyo the week before.


  1. We use reported speech to tell someone what another person said.
    • Jim says to you:

      "I don't feel well."
      "I can't drive."
      "My parents have gone on holiday."
      "I'm going out now so you will have to wait until I get back."
      "I'll help you."

      Later, you tell your friend what Jim said:

      Jim said (that) he didn't feel well.
      He said (that) he couldn't drive.
      He said (that) his parents had gone on holiday.
      He said (that) he was going out now so I would have to wait until he got back.
      He said that he would help me.

Additional points

  1. If we report something which is still true, it is not necessary to change the verb.
    • Direct speech: "My car is bigger than yours."
      Reported speech: He said his car is / was bigger than mine.
  2. When we are reporting past tenses and we see the events from the same viewpoint as the original speaker, it is not necessary to change the tense.
    • Direct speech: "The earthquake happened at half past seven."
      Reported speech: The radio said that the earthquake happened at half past seven.
  3. Modal verbs could, might, would, should, ought, had better usually do not change in reported speech.
    • Direct speech: "I should go to the dentist."
      Reported speech: He said that he should go to the dentist.


(See the phonemic chart for IPA symbols used below)

  1. If we use that in reported speech, we pronounce the weak form:
    • I said that he'd do it: /ðət/

Ideas for teaching reported speech

How do you teach reported speech? Add your idea »


I give the students comic strips from the funny pages, and they have to summarize the direct speech. There are always lots of questions, and that makes especially good practice.


I ask students to tell three secrets to a partner. Then this partner goes and tells these secrets to other people in the class (gossip). In this way, students practice reporting but in a fun way.


I ask students to think of a fun sentence, they're all in a line and the one at the end whispers his/her sentence to the one beside them, this student reports the sentence to the following student, and so on. The last student says the sentence aloud and we see if they did it correctly... it is like the "telefono descompuesto" in Spanish.


Job evaluation for an underachiever:
Boss: In our interview, you said that you could speak Japanese well, but our clients have expressed frustration communicating with you.
You also said that you were proficient with xyz software, but you haven't yet been able to complete a program...etc.


I put students in groups of three. Two in the group are a couple quarreling, but who will not speak to each other. The middle man/woman receives information from one and uses reported speech to relay the message(s).


I showed some slides about a fire at a petrol station and the group had to make up a conversation between two witnesses to the fire. We then wrote it as a newspaper report.


I ask students to think of a fun sentence, they're all in a line and the one at the end whispers his/her sentence to the one beside them, this student reports the sentence to the following student, and so on. The last student says the sentence aloud and we see if they did it correctly... it is like the "telefono descompuesto" in Spanish.


I ask my class to interview their teacher about learning their subject, and then report their interview in front of the class in verbal and non verbal report form.


I show them some debate shows on the Internet after advising them to make notes of the main points. Then I ask them to report what different participants opined. SBS insight has nice discussions to be used for this purpose.


If the resources are available, you can play a short listening or video about an important event, news, etc. Students have to report to the teacher what they heard.

Charlie G

I have students make 10 questions they would ask their favorite actor or actress. Then, they use these questions to interview another partner who pretends to be that famous person. He or she will answer those questions the same way the famous person would. Students end up reporting their answers to the teacher. In that way, they can practice reported speech in an interesting form.


Hey... some nice ideas you've got there! I tell everybody to write a personal sentence about themselves, like, "I really love hanging out with friends after work" or "I have been to India", and keep it in a card. Then I play some music and they make believe they are at a party. They start chatting with a friend and share their sentences, by asking each other some further questions. As soon as I stop the music, they change partners. After a while students have to remember who said what, and then they can show what they had written in their piece of paper to confirm it.


I did a Find someone who mingling activity with my students and then divided the group into two teams. I asked a member of the first team to report one of the replies to a question they had asked. If their reply was correctly put into reported speech, they got a point for their team. I repeated the process until I had covered all the responses from the mingling activity. The team with the most points won the game and was rewarded with cream eggs!


I ask one of my students to leave the room for some minutes. Others prepare questions, for example: ask X if he enjoys soccer, ask Y where she lives. Orders: beg X to give you a camera. A spokesperson then reports the group's sentences to the student that left the room and this student carries out what the others are asking him/her to do.


I make two teams, each team selects one person to represent them. I whisper the representative of the team a sentence and they perform what I told them without saying any words. The other team has to guess what I told them and report it.


I ask my students to read a written interview then report what the interviewed person has said.


A student instructs and demonstrates the making of something. Then a song/scene is played/shown to test the power of retention and to create keenness in reporting the instruction in the correct order. Then selected students will narrate/write down the process converting the oral instructions into indirect speech. The game is repeated judiciously covering all the tense forms. The teacher should write down the instructions in the correct order, at the linguistiic and comprehension capacity of the target group.


I give my students cards with famous sentences from movies or songs, such as "I'll be back" (Terminator) and one student has to say "I'll be back", the next student has to report "He is the terminator and he said he will/would be back". Other sentences: "Luke, I'm your father" (Darth Vader), "Girls just wanna have fun" "Cindy Lauper", "I'm a material girl" (Madonna), "Houston, we have a problem!" (Lovell), "Neo, you are the one." (Morpheus), "I am not going to rehab." (Amy Winehouse)...


I teach primary aged children. I explain reported speech by using 3 children standing in a line. The first child in the line tells the second child something they have done the previous evening. The second child then turns to the third child and tells this child what the first child has said. They automatically say "*** said (s)he went to ***** last night." The children can see that it is not a quote. It is also a good way of explaining first and person speech.

mohamed najih

I prepared two short dialogues. I seperated the sentences into the number of characters in the dialogues. I wrote them on small cards and I asked three students to come to the board and each one took a role. The first person said the first sentence on the card and then the second person asked the third "what did she/he say"? Then the third person reported the sentence.


One possible way to do it is to ask students some questions and while they are answering you just play "the deaf" i.e : You pretend not to hear, and then ask other students to report what their mates said... !!! Teacher: What's your favourite leisure activity?
S1: My..... is....
T: Sorry, I can't hear him/her. What did she/he say?
S2: She/he said (that) her/his favourite...


I would ask each student to write down their favorite movie, book, food... Each student is asked to tell the class what each of these favorites are, then the class responds by saying what each student said. For example, he said that his favorite movie is komodo vs cobra.


I have the students eavesdrop on the receptionists or other students that are not in class for a few minutes and then get them to report their findings to the group.


Cut a dialogue into four parts. Paste it on four walls. Students work in pairs. One of them is the messenger and the other one is a receiver. The messenger runs to the walls and remembers the sentences, comes back and narrates the same to the receiver.

Sasha from Russia

I prepare cards with several questions in different tenses, such as:
"What were you doing yesterday at 6?"
"How long have you been studying English?"
"Will you do your homework for tomorrow?"

I put my students in pairs and ask them to interview each other using the questions in the cards. Once they've received the answers, they change partners and retell a new person everything they've learnt about the previous student. This is a good exercise for practicing different tenses in reported speech.

Ms. Peña

I always review the past tense of regular and irregular verbs first. I show a clip of an episode from Everybody Loves Raymond (Robert's girlfriend eats a fly). Students tell me how Raymond recounted the event. I also use Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Carlton and Will get caught by Mad Dog), The Cosby Show (Theo has girl trouble and Cliff has him singing the blues). It's a fun way to get students interested. It is also an effective way to emphasize Sociolinguistics.


I tell students to think of what happened to them before they came to class. Example, what did their mom, friend, sibling say to them? They write down the direct speech and then the reported speech.


I ask one of my students to introduce him/herself (name, age, hobbies)... and I ask other students to take notes. When they are finished, I ask "What did he say?"

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