Structures: reported speech


We use the reported speech to communicate what another person said without using the exact words they said. We usually form it by using words such as say (or tell, comment, mention, etc.) + that (optional) and the message:

  • William said (that) he would bring the food.

We usually put the verbs in the past (the closest past tense) when reporting other people's messages:

Tense Direct speech Reported speech
Present simple I like living in Paris He said (that) he liked living in Paris
Present continuous I am working He said (that) he was working
Past simple I sent the email He said (that) he had sent the email/He said (that) he sent the email
Past continuous I was watching a film He said (that) he had been watching a film/He said (that) he was watching a film
Present perfect I have written a book He said (that) he had written a book
Will I will help you He said (that) he would help us
Can I can do a backflip He said (that) he could do a backflip

The past perfect and the verbs would, could, should, might and must do not change.

Note: If the message is still relevant or a generally true, we don't necessarily need to change the tense, but changing it is still recommended:

  • 'Berlin is the capital of Germany.' She said Berlin is/was the capital of Germany. (it still is)
Further learning
Description Author Language
How to change the pronouns and verbs in reported speech. Instantâneo Aulas
Basic guide for using reported speech. BBC Learning