Grammar blogs: Reported Speech – What did he say?

students studying English at EC LONDON 30+


If you’re studying English, I’m  sure you’ll have come up against reported speech. It can be quite confusing for new students. Well, in an effort to help you to understand it, one of our teachers has kindly put together a blog explaining the general rules of direct and indirect (reported) speech.


When we want to say what someone else has said we can use direct speech, with “quotation marks”:


“I work in a supermarket”


Or we can use reported speech:


He said he worked in a supermarket


In reported speech we often make changes to show distance from the original conversation. It is usually verb tenses, pronouns and time references that change.


Compare these two sentences:

He said “my friend is going on holiday tomorrow  (direct speech)

He said his friend was going on holiday the next day (reported speech)

In reported speech verbs usually move back a tense from the original:

Direct Speech                                             Reported Speech

Present Simple                                             Past Simple

          “I live in London”                                          He said he lived in London

Present Continuous                                     Past Continuous

“I am living in London”                                He said he was living in London

Present Perfect                                             Past Perfect

“I have lived in London”                              He said he had lived in London

Modal Verbs

“I can sing”                                                    He said he could sing

“I will buy some milk”                                   He said he would buy some milk

If somebody says something that is still true now it is not necessary to move the verb tense back:

“I am a doctor”

She says she is a doctor

If you’re studying English and want to find out more about reported speech and practise using it on our learn English website

If you’re thinking about studying English in the future, check out our adult English courses in the UK.