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Reported Speech 3 – Tenses in reported speech

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When we use ‘reported speech’ we are reporting something said or thought in the past, which is why we usually use the past tense:

Last night he told us that he was leaving for America next winter.

In some situations the present tense is used
When we want to report what many people say.
Everyone says the decision to fire Martin was a bad one.
When we are not sure if what we are reporting is true.
They tell me you’ve decided to leave for America.

In other situations a past or a present reporting verb can be used. A present tense is used when the reported situation is still relevant to the time it is being reported.
He says he can be here in twenty minutes.
Pete said he is visiting Paris next month.

Choosing the right tense in the reported clause

When the situation in the reported clause is already in the past when it is being reported we always use the past tense in the reported clause:
‘I want to go to the concert.’ David said he wanted to go to the concert.
Where are you staying in London?’ Pat asked me where I was staying in London.

When the situation was in the past when the speaker talked about it then we use the past perfect in the reported clause:
‘I’ve never been to Africa.’ Alan said he had never been to Africa.
However if the action is completed and has no relevance to the present the past simple can also be used.
‘Did you enjoy yourself last night?’ She asked me if I enjoyed/had enjoyed myself last night.

If we want to make the reported situation the focus of our sentence or we want to emphasise it if it is still relevant then we use a present tense:
We’re leaving now because Peter said he’s tired.
They claim that they have always offered the best service.

With modal verbs

Will often becomes would
‘You will be fine during the interview.’ I told him he would be fine during the interview.
Will can remain unchanged if the reported clause is still a future time.
‘I’ll arrive in two days time.’ She said she will arrive tomorrow.

Can becomes could
‘I can play the piano.’ She said she could play the piano.
However, - She said she can play the piano- is also possible.
May usually becomes might.
‘It may be a good idea to leave now.’ He said it might be a good idea to leave now.
Must can become had to although it can remain ‘must’ for necessity:
‘I must wake up early.’ He said he had to/must wake up early.
Could, should, would, might, ought to and used to do not change.

Today's lesson is by Tristan, English teacher at EC Malta

Reported Speech 2 - Reporting Questions

Choose the correct sentence in reported speech for the sentences in direct speech:

  • 1 - ‘This is the best pizza I have ever tasted.’

  • 2 - ‘I haven’t been there since last year.’

  • 3 - ‘What time are we leaving tomorrow?’

  • 4 - ‘I will have to leave the party early because I’m travelling the next day.’

  • 5 - ‘You could come tomorrow if you like.’

  • 6 - ‘I have always wanted to see the Coliseum.’

  • 7 - ‘When I got there it was snowing heavily.’

  • 8 - ‘Paul and Mary are splitting up.’