10. Reported speech

And then she told me she wanted a divorce…

Reported statements

Reported statements are when someone says something: a sentence, for example Max says:I will go to the cinema in the evening”.

Later, someone asks us what Max is doing tonight: “Max said he would go to the cinema

1. I like to think that the rule of reported speech is to “go back in each tense”. Imagine, the present goes to the past, the present perfect, to the past perfect, and so on. This rule doesn’t ALWAYS work. Check out the rules below!

2. Using “that” is completely optional. Exactly the same if you use “it” or if you do not use “it”.

3. But if the verb is in the past tense, then we usually change the tense in the sentence:

TIP: In the FCE Use of English key word transformation section, there is often a question that requires knowledge of reported speech. So learn this well!


Direct SpeechReported SpeechRule
I like vegetables. They said (that) they liked vegetables.Present Simple –> Past Simple
I am going to the USAShe said (that) she was going to the USAPresent Continuous –> Past Continuous
I bought a new book.She said (that) she had bought a new bookPast Simple –> Past Perfect
I was going alone to the school. She said (that) she had been going alone to the schoolPast Continuous –> Past Perfect Continuous
I have taken motivational lessons. She said (that) she had taken motivational lessons.Present Perfect –> Past Perfect
I’ll talk to you later. She said (that) she would talk to me later.Will –> Would
I can cook good food.She said (that) she could cook good foodCan –> Could
I may agree with it. She said (that) she might agree with it.May–> Might
I must study on the weekend.She said she had to study at the weekendMust –> Had To
I shall agree with it. She said (that) she would agree with it.Shall -> Should/ Would


There is no need to change the present to the past if the information in direct speech is still true (but this only applies to general facts and even then, we usually want to change the tense):

Direct speech: The car is blue.

Reported speech: He said (that) the car is/was blue.

Furthermore, if the direct speech is in the past perfect, there is no need to change the tense.

Reported Questions

There are a few important rules to remember for questions.

Firstly, the tense changes apply here, like normal. However, it’s important to know that when we report a question, it is no longer a question. So the structure of the sentence becomes like a normal sentence, while keeping the question word.

Where do you want to eat? – She asked me where I wanted to eat.

Secondly, if a “yes/no” question is asked, we normally express this using if or whether.

Do you want to come? – He asked me if/whether I wanted to come.

An example that is sometimes difficult is a question using “to be”.

“Where is Josh?”, he asked.

He asked me where Josh was.

To make the question, we invert the subject and the verb. Therefore, when reporting the sentence, we change the structure to it’s “original” form, which normally results in the verb “to be” being at the end of the sentence.

More Examples:

Direct speechReported speech
Where are the keys?She asked me where the keys were.
Have you ever been to the USA?She asked me if I had ever been to the USA.

Reported Orders 

If the original sentence is in the imperative, we simply use an object (the person being told) and the infinitive verb.


Direct speechReported speech
Wake up! She told me to wake up.
Don’t worry! He told her not to worry.
Don’t smoke! He told us not to smoke.

Time Expressions with Reported Speech

Sometimes when we turn direct speech into spoken speech, we also need to change the expressions of the tense. We don’t always have to. It depends on when we hear the direct speech and when we say the speech.

For example:

It’s Friday. Michelle says “I’m leaving “.

If I tell someone on Friday, I say “Michelle said she was leaving today“.

If I tell someone on Saturday, I say “Michelle said she was leaving yesterday“.


Now –> Then / At that time

Today –> Yesterday / That day / Tuesday / The 27th of June

Yesterday –> The day before yesterday / The day before /   Wednesday / The 5th of December

Last night –> The night before, Thursday night

Tomorrow –> Today / The next day / The following day / Friday

Last week –> The week before / The previous week