Reported speech is how we represent the speech of other people or what we ourselves say. There are two main types of reported speech: direct speech and indirect speech.
Direct speech repeats the exact words the person used, or how we remember their words:
Barbara said, “I didn’t realise it was midnight.”
In indirect speech, the original speaker’s words are changed.
Barbara said she hadn’t realised it was midnight.
In this example, I becomes she and the verb tense reflects the fact that time has passed since the words were spoken: didn’t realise becomes hadn’t realised.
Indirect speech focuses more on the content of what someone said rather than their exact words:
“I’m sorry,” said Mark. (direct)
Mark apologised. (indirect: report of a speech act)
In a similar way, we can report what people wrote or thought:
‘I will love you forever,’ he wrote, and then posted the note through Alice’s door. (direct report of what someone wrote)
He wrote that he would love her forever, and then posted the note through Alice’s door. (indirect report of what someone wrote)
I need a new direction in life, she thought. (direct report of someone’s thoughts)
She thought that she needed a new direction in life. (indirect report of someone’s thoughts)
Reported speech: direct speech
Reported speech: indirect speech
Reported speech: reporting and reported clauses
Speech reports consist of two parts: the reporting clause and the reported clause. The reporting clause includes a verb such as say, tell, ask, reply, shout, usually in the past simple, and the reported clause includes what the original speaker said.
“I need your help.”
Then a man shouted,
“Get out of there, fast!”
The postman said
he had a package for us.
Clarissa told me
she’s thinking of moving to Canada.
Reported speech: punctuation
In direct speech we usually put a comma between the reporting clause and the reported clause. The words of the original speaker are enclosed in inverted commas, either single (‘…’) or double (“…”). If the reported clause comes first, we put the comma inside the inverted commas:
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” he said.
Rita said, ‘I don’t need you any more.’
If the direct speech is a question or exclamation, we use a question mark or exclamation mark, not a comma:
‘Is there a reason for this?’ she asked.
“I hate you!” he shouted.
We sometimes use a colon (:) between the reporting clause and the reported clause when the reporting clause is first:
The officer replied: ‘It is not possible to see the General. He’s busy.’
In indirect speech it is more common for the reporting clause to come first. When the reporting clause is first, we don’t put a comma between the reporting clause and the reported clause. When the reporting clause comes after the reported clause, we use a comma to separate the two parts:
She told me they had left her without any money.
Not: She told me, they had left her without any money.
Nobody had gone in or out during the previous hour, he informed us.
We don’t use question marks or exclamation marks in indirect reports of questions and exclamations:
He asked me why I was so upset.
Not: He asked me why I was so upset?
Reported speech: reporting verbs
Say and tell
We can use say and tell to report statements in direct speech, but say is more common. We don’t always mention the person being spoken to with say, but if we do mention them, we use a prepositional phrase with to (to me, to Lorna):
‘I’ll give you a ring tomorrow,’ she said.
‘Try to stay calm,’ she said to us in a low voice.
Not: ‘Try to stay calm,’ she said us in a low voice.
With tell, we always mention the person being spoken to; we use an indirect object (underlined):
‘Enjoy yourselves,’ he told them.
Not: ‘Enjoy yourselves,’ he told.
In indirect speech, say and tell are both common as reporting verbs. We don’t use an indirect object with say, but we always use an indirect object (underlined) with tell:
He said he was moving to New Zealand.
Not: He said me he was moving to New Zealand.
He told me he was moving to New Zealand.
Not: He told he was moving to New Zealand.
We use say, but not tell, to report questions:
‘Are you going now?’ she said.
Not: ‘Are you going now?’ she told me.
We use say, not tell, to report greetings, congratulations and other wishes:
‘Happy birthday!’ she said.
Not: Happy birthday!’ she told me.
Everyone said good luck to me as I went into the interview.
Not: Everyone told me good luck …
Say or tell?
Other reporting verbs
add,comment,explain,offer,state,admit,complain,hint,order,suggest,advise,confess,inform,point out,threaten,agree,confirm,insist,promise,warn,announce,continue,interrupt,protest,wonder,answer,cry (= shout),maintain,repeat,ask,demand,note,reply,claim,enquire,observe,shout
The reporting verbs in this list are more common in indirect reports, in both speaking and writing:
Simon admitted that he had forgotten to email Andrea.
Louis always maintains that there is royal blood in his family.
The builder pointed out that the roof was in very poor condition.
Most of the verbs in the list are used in direct speech reports in written texts such as novels and newspaper reports. In ordinary conversation, we don’t use them in direct speech. The reporting clause usually comes second, but can sometimes come first:
‘Who is that person?’ she asked.
‘It was my fault,’ he confessed.
‘There is no cause for alarm,’ the Minister insisted.