Direct and indirect speech: Rules for the change of tenses

Posted by Manjusha. Filed in English Grammar

When the reporting verb is in the past tense, all present tenses within the inverted commas are changed into the corresponding past tenses.

Simple present will change into simple past.

Present continuous will change into past continuous tense.

Present perfect tense will change into past perfect tense.

Present perfect progressive will change into past perfect progressive.

Simple past will change into past perfect.

Past perfect will not change.

Points to be noted

1. The tenses may not change if the statement is still relevant or if it is a universal truth. We can often choose whether to keep the original tenses or change them.

2. After present, future and present perfect reporting verbs, tenses are usually the same as in the original.

Modal verbs in indirect speech

The modals will, shall, can and may change to their corresponding past tense forms in indirect speech.

The modals would, should, could, might, ought and must are normally unchanged after past reporting verbs in indirect speech. This is also true of modal need and had better.

First person shall and conditional should may be reported as would in indirect speech (because of the change of person).

Sections in this article

Direct and indirect speech
Rules for the change of pronouns
Reporting verb
Rules for the change of tenses
Rules for the change of adverbs
Reporting hopes, intentions and promises
Reporting orders, requests and advice
Reporting questions
Reporting questions: grammar exercise
Reported speech exercise
Reporting Yes/No questions