English Grammar Step by Step
In direct speech we repeat the original words that were said
word for word. In reported speech, they undergo some changes:
——Personal pronouns and possessives (adjectives and pronouns):
He said, ‘I didn’t witness the traffic accident.’
He said (that) he hadn’t witnessed the traffic accident.
‘We need a holiday: we need to recharge our batteries,’
They said (that) they needed a holiday,
as/since/because they needed to recharge their batteries.
‘It’s not ours,’they said.
They said (that) it was not theirs.
past perfect→past perfect
We shall see this in more detail in the next sections.
These changes are only possible if the introductory
verb is in a past tense:
‘I want to go to her birthday party.’ (original words)
He says (that) he wants to go to her birthday party.
He said (that) he wanted to go to her birthday party.
Rewrite the following in reported speech.
1 Example: (simple present→simple past)
‘I hate spaghetti,’ she said.
SHE said (that) SHE hated spaghetti.
a ‘The train leaves in ten minutes,’ said the man.
b ‘This evening they play at home.,’ he said. ‘Next week they
c ‘It’s no use investing more money in the company,’ they said.
d ‘I’m astounded to hear such remarks,’ she said.
e ‘Stress underlies many diseases of modern times,’ she said.
2 Example: (present continuous→past continuous)
‘She’s listening to some CDs,’ said his father.
His father said (that) she was listening to some CDs.
a ‘They’re going from bad to worse,’ he said to me.
b ‘Things are looking up,’ she said.
c ‘You’re always moaning and groaning,’ he said to them.
d ‘She’s wearing a pair of blue jeans and a black blouse,’ he
e ‘I’m having an important appointment in fifteen minutes,’ she
3 Example: (present perfect→past perfect)
‘I’ve finished MY homework, mummy,’ he said.
HE told his mother/HE said to his mother (that) HE had
finished HIS homework.
a ‘I have purchased a mansion,’ she told me.
b ‘We have run ten kilometres so far,’ they answered.
c ‘I haven’t finished reading the book yet,’ she said.
d ‘Your daughter has not come to class today, Mrs Smith,’ he
e ‘It’s the second time she hasn’t come to class this week,’
4 Example: (present perfect continuous→past perfect continuous)
‘WE’ve been living in this house for twenty years,’ he
HE replied that THEY had been living in the/that house for
a ‘They have been trafficking in stolen goods for over ten
years,’ he remarked.
b ‘We have been walking for two hours without stopping,’ they
c ‘He’s been learning Arabic for two years,’ said his mother.
d ‘It’s been snowing for the last two hours,’ he said.
e ‘They’ve been pulling my leg since I arrived here,’ she
5 Example: (simple past→past perfect)
‘I had a car last year,’ she said.
SHE said that SHE had had a car the previous year.
a ‘This morning I was late because I got stuck in heavy
traffic,’ she said.
b ‘We suffered a defeat against Germany,’ he said. ‘They won by
two goals to one.’
c ‘He set his vicious dog on us,’ they said.
d ‘We learnt a sharp lesson from this experience,’ they
e ‘I didn’t commit the crime,’ he declared.
6 Examples: (past continuous→past continuous or past
perfect continuous; simple past→simple past or past perfect)
(1)‘MY parents were watching TV when I got home last night,’
He said (that) HIS parents were watching TV when HE got home
the night before.
(2) ‘I was not looking where I was going when I crashed MY
car into the wall,’ he said.
HE said (that) HE was not looking where HE was going when HE
crashed HIS car into a wall.
(3) ‘They told ME the truth when I asked them about it,’ he
He said (that) they (had) told HIM the truth when HE asked
them about it.
(4) ‘Don’t take her words seriously: she was only teasing
you,’ they said to me.
They told me not to take her words seriously, as she had only
been teasing me.
(5) ‘I was considering the idea of resigning, but I didn’t
(resign) because I got a pay increase,’ she said.
SHE said (that) SHE had been considering the idea of
resigning, but (that) SHE didn’t (resign) because SHE got
a pay increase/SHE said (that) SHE had been considering
the idea of resigning, but (that) SHE hadn’t (resigned)
because SHE had got a pay increase.
(6) ‘I didn’t buy the car because it was too old,’ she said.
SHE said that SHE hadn’t bought the car because it was too
In the first example, the past continuous tense is not put
into the past perfect continuous because it would imply that
‘they were no longer watching TV when he got home’. Note
that after ‘when’ (time clause), the verb (‘got’, ‘crashed’
and ‘asked’) is left unchanged. As for the main clause,
it is very often left unchanged, too.
Compare this with the following:
‘I felt drowsy after I took the medicine,’ he said.
HE said (that) he (had) felt drowsy after HE had taken/
he took the medicine.
In this case, he could also have said: ‘I felt drowsy after I
had taken the medicine.’ See unit 9, section 27.
As for the fourth example, the past continuous form refers to
an earlier action, since she was no longer teasing me when
they told me not to take her words seriously. The same
applies to the fifth instance. In the sixth example, ‘the
car was still old’ when this was reported, so it is not
possible to use the past perfect here.
‘Chistopher Columbus discovered America in 1492,’ she said.
She said (that) Chistopher Columbus discovered America
‘I was studying at the high school in 1980,’ she said.
SHE said (that) SHE was studying at the high school in
1980. (She spent all the year studying there.)
SHE said (that) SHE had been studying at the high school
in 1980. (She did not spend all the year studying there.
She probably did not even finish the year.)
‘I got top marks that year,’ she added.
SHE added that SHE (had) got top marks that year.
‘I was doing the cooking while they were reading
the newspaper,’ he said.
HE said (that) HE had been doing/was doing the cooking
while they were reading the newspaper.
a ‘She was sitting on a bench when I saw her,’ he said.
b ‘I was sunbathing when it started to cloud over,’ he said.
c ‘I went out of the cinema before the film was over,’ he
said. ‘I didn’t like the film at all.’
d ‘The reason why we didn’t buy the house was because it was
in ruins,’ they said.
e ‘It was also too far from the city centre,’ they added.
7 Examples: (past perfect→past perfect)
‘WE had never met before,’ she said.
SHE said (that) THEY had never met before.
a ‘I had never done such a thing in my life,’ he said.
b ‘We’d always known that,’ they said.
c ‘I had just left them at home,’ I said.
d ‘I had always wanted a car like that,’ he said.
e ‘We had always longed for a house of our own,’ she said.
8 Examples: (past perfect continuous→past perfect continuous)
‘I had been studying Swahili for nearly five years,’ he said.
HE said that HE had been studying Swahili for nearly five
a ‘We had been picking apples for over a month,’ they said.
b ‘Somebody had been eating my homemade pastries,’ he said.
c ‘They had been taking driving lessons recently,’ said their
d ‘Somebody had been giving secret information to the enemy,’
the colonel said.
e ‘I had been teaching French for a long time,’ she said.
9 Examples: (can→could; may→might; will→would)
‘I can play the drums,’ she said.
SHE said (that) SHE could play the drums.
‘I may be late tomorrow,’ she said.
SHE said (that) SHE might be late the next day.
‘YOU’ll get a payout of £1,000,000 if the building is burnt
down,’ they assured us.
THEY assured us (that) WE would/should get a payout of
£1,000,000 if the building was burnt down.
a ‘You can take the day off,’ said my employer.
b ‘You may be right,’ he admitted.
c ‘We won’t do it again,’ they promised.
d ‘They’ll pay for it,’ the old man said angrily.
e ‘I can’t live without you, darling,’ he told his wife.
10 Examples: (could→could; had better→had better; might→might;
ought to→ought to; should→should; used to→used to;
‘I could lend YOU the money,’ she said.
SHE said (that) SHE could lend ME the money.
‘WE had better cancel OUR appointment,’ they said.
THEY said that THEY had better cancel their appointment.
‘YOU might be wrong,’ he said.
He said (that) I might be wrong.
‘They ought to help the poor,’ he said.
He said (that) they ought to help the poor.
‘They should not take long,’ she said.
She said that they should not take long.
‘I used to smoke a lot,’ he said.
HE said that HE used to smoke a lot.
‘I would have done it,’ she said.
SHE said (that) SHE would have done it.
a ‘I wouldn’t have left my car unlocked,’ she said.
b ‘You might have been hurt,’ she said.
c ‘They ought to have phone us up,’ said his mother.
d ‘They could have got lost,’ he said.
e ‘We used to play truant,’ they said.
then; at that moment
the following day; the next day; the day after
tomorrow morning, afernoon...
the following/next morning, afternoon...
the day after tomorrow
two days later/after; in two days’ time; in two days
the day before; the previous day
yesterday morning, afternoon...
the previous morning, afternoon...; the morning, afternoon... before
the day before yesterday
two days before
the night before last
two nights before
next week, month...
the following/next week, month...; the week, month... after; in a week’s time; in a week
last week, month...
The previous week, month...; the week, month... before
ago (a week ago)
before (a week before); previous (the previous week)
this (singular) / these (plural)
that (singular) / those (plural)
bring and come
take and go
It is also called ‘indirect speech’.
That can be left out after say and tell, and a few other
verbs; but it cannot, after some others:
‘We can’t live together, son,’ they explained.
They explain to their son that they could not live
Therefore, you had better not remove ‘that’ if you are in
We often use a connector to link two sentences. The most
common ones are and, as (since or because) and but.
This is called ‘back-shift’.
Compare the following:
‘We’ll meet here tomorrow,’ she said.
She said (that) that we’d meet here today, but she
still hasn’t come. (I am in the same place that she
said we would meet; she may have forgotten to come.)
She said that we’d meet there today. (I am in another
place, but I have a date with her today.)
‘The sun sets in the west,’ she said.
She said that the sun sets in the west. (This is still
true at the moment of reporting it.)
Note also that in the first two examples above, we could
have also said the following:
She said (that) we will meet here today. (So we had
better wait until she comes.)
She said (that) we will meet there today. (So we must
go there and wait until she comes.)
That and those are chiefly used in time expressions,
otherwise the + a noun, it (that) or they/them (those),
or another alternative often replaces that and those:
‘I’ll do it this week,’ he said.
He said (that) he would do it that week.
‘Where did you find these photographs,’ she said.
She asked (me) where I had found the/those photographs.
‘This car is mine,’ he said.
He said (that) the/that car was his/He said (that) the
car (which was) in front of us was his.
‘I like these (ones),’ he said.
He said (that) he liked those ones/He showed me the ones
‘We’ll give this to you tonight,’ they said.
They said that they would give it/that to me that night.
This can also be applied to verbs like bring and come. Note
that ‘bring it with me/us/you’ and ‘come with me/us/you’
‘Bring her with you, he said.
He told me to bring her with me.
‘Bring her here by midnight,’ they said.
They told me to take her there by midnight.
‘He brought me a bunch of flowers to hospital,’ she said.
She said (that) he had brought her a bunch of flowers
to hospital. (We take the place as a reference.)
‘Come here tomorrow,’ he said.
He told me to go there the next day. (A different
place where the speaker or listener is when this
Come to the cinema with us tomorrow,’ we said to them.
We told them to come to the cinema with us the
following day. (But ‘Go to the cinema with them,’
they said to us→They told us to go to the cinema
with them the following day.)
‘Come into the house,’ she said.
She asked me to come into the house. (She was in the
house and said, ‘Come into the house.’ She asked me
to go into the house would imply that she was outside
the house and said, ‘Go into the house.’)
‘She came into the bathroom,’ he said.
He said (that) she had come into the bathroom. (Obviously,
he was not inside the bathroom when she came in. We take
the place as a reference.)
‘Will you come and see us when you move to the States?’
We invited/asked him/her/them to come and see us when
we move to the States. (We will be soon in the United
States of America.)
If we mention the person addressed, both tell and say to
She told me/said to me (that) she didn’t like spaghetti.
Compare the following:
‘The train leaves in ten minutes,’ the man said/said
‘The plane is due to land in a few minutes,’ he said.
‘Do you use ear-plugs at night?’ Mary asked/asked Mary.
‘I failed,’ Kim said sadly. (not said Kim sadly)
‘It is not worth twopence,’ Lesly told me. (not told
If the subject of said, asked..., is a pronoun, we do not
normally put the subject after the verb. If we have an
object or an adverb after the verb, we cannot place the
verb before the subject.
For imperatives, see section 14.
For had better, see unit 6, part 4, section 10.
Author: Miquel Molina i Diez
Pages: 1, 2 and the key
1 Negative and interrogative sentences (Page 2 and the key)
2 Short answers (Page 2 and the key)
3 Question tags (Page 2 and the key)
4 Questions and exclamations (Page 2 and the key)
5 So, neither, nor, either (the key)
6 Be, used to, would, be/get/become used to, dare, have, get, become, grow, go, turn, fall and feel (Page 2 and the key)
7 Verb tenses: forms (Page 2 and the key)
8 Irregular verbs
9 Verb tenses: uses (Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5 and the key)
10 Personal pronouns, possessives and reflexive pronouns (Page 2 and the key)
11 The genitive case (the key)
12 Singular and plural nouns (Page 2 and the key)
13 Gender (the key)
14 A, an, some, any, no, not, none, each, every and the; compounds of some, any, no and every (Page 2, Page 3 and the key)
15 Neither, not...either, none, not...any, both and all (the key)
16 A few, few, a lot, lots, a little, little, many, much, no and plenty (the key)
17 Enough, too, so and such (the key)
18 Comparative and superlative sentences (Page 2 and the key)
19 Adjective order (the key)
20 Relative clauses (Page 2 and the key)
21 Do and make (the key)
22 Modal verbs (Page 2, Page 3 and the key)
23 Infinitives, gerunds and present participles (Page 2 and the key)
24 Conditional sentences (Page 2 and the key)
25 Passive sentences (the key)
26 Reported speech (Page 2 and the key)
27 Purpose (the key)
28 Word order (the key)
29 Inversion (the key)
30 Connectors (Page 2 and the key)
31 Prepositions (Page 2, Page 3 and the key)
32 Phrasal verbs (the key)