Reporting speech

Reporting speech

Post categories: Teacher blog 

Kim | 10:28 UK time, Thursday, 22 July 2010 

Dear Enayat

Thanks for your latest post – I can see that there is a lot of discussion. Your use of English is very good in your latest post too. I’ve noted that you use a lot of speech in your writing, quoting or reporting what other people are saying, so I thought that today I would focus on using direct and reported speech. I hope that is useful for you.

Direct speech

This is when we directly quote somebody’s words. For this we use speech (or quotation) marks like this “…”. When a reader sees these marks they know that the writer is now using somebody else’s voice. If you don’t use them, then it can be confusing for the reader. 

Let’s look at some examples from your posts:

One of my friends nodded and said, “I am sure the team of miracles will win.”

One of my friends who comes from a part of the country where they naturally like dancing to live music whispered to me and said, “I want to dance.”

My friend looked around and said loudly, “I don’t care who has invited me, I cannot wait any longer.”

Note the punctuation here. There is a comma (,) after said and before the speech marks. I like the way that you don’t just use said too, but you also use other verbs like whispered and add adverbs like said loudly. This makes your writing more interesting for the reader. 

Here is your first task:

Can you think of other verbs you could use instead of said? It would be good for other readers to add their suggestions below too!

Reported speech

We can also report what people have said. In this case we don’t use speech marks. Here is an example from one of your posts: 

They said the Minister and his deputy must present an effective mechanism.

Note the punctuation here – there is no comma after said.

In reported speech the tenses, pronouns and word order may be different from the original sentence. Look at how these sentences change when you report them:

One of my friends nodded and said he was sure the team of miracles would win.

One of my friends whispered that he wanted to dance.

My friend said loudly that he didn’t care who had invited him and that he could not wait any longer.

Look at the changes in these sentences:

  • the pronoun I has changed to he
    • verbs in the present tense have changed to the past tense (for example want has changed to wanted)
    • verbs in the present perfect tense have changed to the past perfect (has invited has changed to had invited)
    can has changed to could
    will has changed to would
    that has been inserted into the sentence – this is optional

Here is a summary of how the tenses usually change when you are reporting speech:

Present simple changes to past simple: “I am hungry” > She said she was hungry
Present continuous changes to past continuous: “I am eating” > She said she was eating
Note that people sometimes keep the present tenses when reporting if the fact is still true, for example:
“I am a journalist” > She said she was a journalist OR She said she is a journalist

Past simple changes to past perfect: “I lived there six years ago” > She said she had lived there six years ago.
Past continuous changes to past perfect continuous: “I was watching them” > She said she had been watching them.
Note that people sometimes keep the past tenses when reporting, especially when they are speaking, so it also possible to say: She said she lived there six years ago. OR She said she was watching them.

Present perfect changes to past perfect: “I’ve hurt my finger” > She said she had hurt her finger.
Past perfect does not change: “I’d cleaned that” > She said she had cleaned that.

Modal verbs:
Can changes to could
Will changes to would
Other modal verbs (for example, must) do not change. 

Making reported speech interesting!

When are reporting speech you don’t have to write down every word. 

Imagine that somebody says: “I will help you.”

When you are writing this you could say:

He said, “I will help you.”


He said that he would help me.

OR….you could report the speech in a different way:
He promised to help me.

By using verbs like promise, you can report speech in a more interesting way. 

So…here is your second task:

What other verbs can you use to report speech in a more interesting way? Other readers – please feel free to suggest some too!

You can find out more about reported speech in the Ask about English section on BBC Learning English:


quote – repeat somebody else’s words
nod – move your head up and down to agree with somebody
miracle – a surprising event that people think has been caused by a god
live music – music that you are watching as it is happening
whisper – speak very quietly


Please let me know what you think

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