Direct and indirect speech: Rules for the change of tenses
When the reporting verb is in the past tense, all present tenses within the inverted commas are changed into the corresponding past tenses.
- She said, "I am fine."
- She said that she was fine.
- She said, "I am going."
- She said that she was going.
- She said, "I have finished."
- She said that she had finished.
- She said, "I have been working."
- She said that she had been working.
Simple past will change into past perfect.
- He said, "I wrote a letter."
- He said that he had written a letter.
Past perfect will not change.
- I said, "I had made a call."
- I said that I had made a call.
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.
- He said, "I know your address."
- He said that he knows/knew her address.
- She said, "English is easy to learn."
- She said that English is/was easy to learn.
- He said, "I have missed the train."
- He said that he has/had missed the train.
- The teacher said, "The Earth goes round the Sun."
- The teacher said that the Earth goes/went round the Sun.
2. After present, future and present perfect reporting verbs, tenses are usually the same as in the original.
- He says, "I dont want to play any more."
- He says that he doesnt want to play any more.
- I will tell her, "Your idea is great."
- I will tell her your idea is great.
- The government has announced, "Taxes will be raised."
- The government has announced that taxes will be raised.
Modal verbs in indirect speech
The modals will, shall, can and may change to their corresponding past tense forms in indirect speech.
- He said, "I can swim."
- He said that he could swim.
- I said, "I will probably be late."
- I said that I would probably be late.
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.
- He said, "It would be nice if I could see you again."
- He said that it would be nice if he could see me again.
- She said, "It must be pretty late. I really must go."
- She said that it must be pretty late and she really must go.
First person shall and conditional should may be reported as would in indirect speech (because of the change of person).
- They said, "We shall/should be delighted to come."
- They said that they would be delighted to come.
Sections in this article
Direct and indirect speech
Rules for the change of pronouns
Rules for the change of tenses
Rules for the change of adverbs
Reporting hopes, intentions and promises
Reporting orders, requests and advice
Reporting questions: grammar exercise
Reported speech exercise
Reporting Yes/No questions