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Indirect speech


We use indirect speech to report what someone else said: When you want to tell someone what somebody else said you can just repeat their words (direct speech): (we use quotations marks when writing direct speech)

or, you can use indirect speech:


When using indirect speech, the main reporting verb of the sentence is usually in the past tense: The present tense in direct speech is usually changed to the past for indirect speech:

direct speech indirect speech
"I'm going to the park." She said that she was going to the park.
"You must report to the manager." He told me that I had to report to the manager.
"We will do it." They said that they would do it.
"Ana can swim very well." I said that Ana could swim very well.

The past simple tense in direct speech can stay as past simple tense for indirect speech or can change to past perfect:

direct speech indirect speech
"I arrived late, so they sacked me." He said that he arrived late, so they sacked him.
He said that he had arrived late, so they had sacked him.

When using indirect speech, you can leave out the word "that":
  • I said that she should have seen a doctor.
  • I said she should have seen a doctor.

Practice 1

Complete the indirect speech by changing the tense of the direct speech verb:

  • "I don't like olives."
    She said that she olives.
  • "I'll post the letter."
    He said that he the letter.
  • "We're going to the theatre."
    They said that they to the theatre.
  • "You can leave early."
    She told me I early.

When you use indirect speech, you must remember to change subject and object pronouns:

direct speech indirect speech
"I'm late for work." April said that she was late for work.
"I will give you the box." Tom said that he would give me the box.

We must also change adverbs and adverbial phrases of time and place:

direct speech indirect speech
"We will arrive tomorrow." They said they would arrive the next day.
"The diary is here in my office." He told me that the diary was there in his office.

Practice 2

Complete the indirect speech with the correct pronouns:

  • "We are visiting the museum tomorrow."
    They said were visiting the museum the next day.
  • "I will see you later."
    She said would see later.
  • "We have left you our car."
    They told me that had left their car.
  • "I wasn't driving very fast when I crashed."
    He said that wasn't driving very fast when crashed.

If the situation reported is still true at the time of reporting, it is not necessary to change the verb tense for indirect speech:

direct speech indirect speech
"I love my new house!" Mary said that she loves her new house.
(This is still true. She still loves her house.)

But changing the verb tense is also correct:

direct speech indirect speech
"I love my new house!" Mary said that she loved her new house.

In the following situations, you must change the verb tense:

When we report orders, commands or requests we use "tell" or "ask" and the infinitive with "to":

direct speech indirect speech
"Close the door." She told me to close the door.
"Please, give me the key." He asked me to give him the key.

Say or tell?

"Tell" needs an object: "Say" does not take an object:

Further practice

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