How to use Reported Speech

Learn about Reported Speech in English grammar. Clear and simple explanation of meaning and use, with examples.

Keith Taylor

Forming 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 the pronoun needs to be changed.
    • 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. Other words about place and time may also need to be changed.
    • 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.


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.

If we use that in reported speech, we pronounce the weak form.

  • I said that he’d do it: /ðət/

Related grammar points

Reported Questions
Reporting Verbs
Say and Tell

Keith Taylor

Keith is the co-founder of Eslbase and School of TEFL. He's been a teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years, in Indonesia, Australia, Morocco, Spain, Italy, Poland, France and now in the UK.

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  • maya

    Hello, I’m not a teacher, I’m an ESL class student. So, I’m here to ask you guys a question about wich is still making me to be confused. I asked my teacher, ”if you say, ”I am a teacher”, should I make it a reported speech as ” she said she was a teacher?”. she answered that I needed to say ,” she said she is a teacher”. One more thing: I found a sentence in worksheet written , ”He told his birthday is next week”. Is it correct? I thought it had to be ” he told his birhday would be next week” So, is this modern English rule? Is that a difference? Can you pleeease, explain and help me to make sure to correct this hesitation.

    • Keith profile photo
      Keith Taylor

      Hi Maya

      Thanks for your questions.

      “She said she was a teacher” and “She said she is a teacher” are both correct. Often we don’t change the tense if the fact that we are reporting is still true. So, if it is still true that she is a teacher, then she can report it with “She said she is a teacher” (see Additional point number 1 above).

      “He told his birthday is next week”. First of all, if you use “told” then you must add a direct object, like this: “He told me his birthday is next week”.

      Now, let’s look at the different ways we can use reported speech for this. If the person says “My birthday is next week” then we can report it like this:
      – He told me his birthday was next week
      – He told me his birthday is next week (it’s still true so we don’t need to change the tense)

      If the person says “My birthday will be next week” then we can report it like this:
      – He told me his birthday would be next week.

      I hope that helps!

      • maya

        This is what I wanted to know. Thanks a lot!

  • Sabrina

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

  • Sahar

    I tell students to think about what happened to them before they came to class. For example, “what did your mom, dad, husband, wife say to them? They write down the direct speech and then the reported speech.

  • Sasha

    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 on the cards. Once they’ve got their answers, they change partners and share everything they’ve learnt about the previous student.

  • Anonymous

    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.

  • Laura

    I did a “Find someone who…” mingling activity with my students and then divided the group into two teams. I asked a member from 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 activity. The team with the most points won the game and was rewarded with cream eggs!

  • Charlie G

    I have students make 10 questions they would ask their favourite 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.

  • Maggie

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

  • Sopan

    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.

  • Denise

    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.

  • Stacy

    I put students in groups of three. Two in the group are a couple quarrelling, 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).

  • Andy

    I ask students to think of a fun sentence. I put them all in a line and the student at the end whispers their sentence to the one beside them, this student then 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.

  • Gabi

    I ask students to tell their partner three secrets. Then, this student tells other students in the class (a good way to explain the word: gossip!). This activity helps students practice reporting but in a fun way!

  • Debbie

    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.

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