An article by Kerry Maxwell and Lindsay Clandfield on approaches to teaching reported speech.
Whenever we use reported speech, we have to take into account how circumstances have changed since the speaker originally spoke the words. For instance, we may now be reporting what was said from the point of view of a different time or place, or the person reporting the speech may be different to the original speaker. This will affect the choice of pronouns or adverbials of time and place in reporting/reported clauses.
Referring to people
If we were making an arrangement to meet a friend, we might say something like:
If we then later report what we have said to another friend, we might say something like:
Notice how you in the original statement becomes her in the reported clause.
If somebody else was reporting what we said to another friend, they might say:
Here, I has become she in the reporting clause, and you has become her in the reported clause. If we do not meet our first friend in the park as planned, and she speaks to us about this later in the day, she might say:
Here, I has become you in the reporting clause, and you has become me in the reported clause.
The examples illustrate that pronouns always change according to the point of view of the person using the reported speech. The same is true of possessive pronouns. For instance, a question such as:
Could be reported with any one of the following, depending on the point of view of the speaker or listener, e.g.
- She asked if I was her sister.
- He asked if she was his sister.
- She asked if you were my sister.
- I asked if she was her sister.
Referring to places
Sometimes words which relate to place or position need to be changed in a reported clause. For instance, if someone were to say to us:
then if we were at home we might report this as:
In the reported clause your place has been changed to here.
If someone is in a restaurant and says:
This statement might be reported by someone else who is not in the restaurant as:
In this case, here has been changed to there in the reported clause.
Referring to time
Adverbials of time such as today, yesterday, tomorrow, etc. often need to be changed in reported speech. For instance, someone might say to you:
If you were reporting this to someone else the day after, you might say:
In this case, tomorrow afternoon has changed to this afternoon in the reported clause.
If someone says:
And we were reporting this to someone else a few days after it was said, then we might say:
Here, yesterday has changed to the previous day in the reported clause.
Here are some time adverbials and examples of what they often change to in reported speech. Note that the choice of time adverbial always depends on the particular situation that surrounds the reported speech.
- yesterday the previous day/the day before/on Saturday, etc.
- today yesterday/that day/on Saturday, etc.
- tomorrow the next day/the following day/on Saturday, etc.
- this week that week/last week
- next year the year after/the following year/in 2006, etc.
- last month the month before/the previous month/in April, etc.
Negatives in reporting
If we want to report what someone did not say or think, then the verb in the reporting clause must be made negative, e.g.
If we want to report something that was said but which was in the negative when the speaker originally used it, then the verb in the reported clause must be negative, e.g.
However, with the common reporting verb think, in order to report a sentence which was negative when the speaker originally used it, the reporting verb is usually made negative, rather than the verb in the reported clause, e.g.
(More natural than He thought it wasn’t a good idea.)
Other common reporting verbs that behave in this way include believe, expect, and feel, e.g.
Passives in reporting
Reporting verbs such as tell and inform often occur in passive report structures. When they are used in the passive, the hearer of the original statement becomes the subject of the sentence in reported speech, e.g.
Passive reporting verbs are often used when it is not important to identify the speaker of the original sentence, focusing on the hearer only, e.g.
In a similar way, reporting verbs such as say and believe are sometimes used in the passive in order to avoid specifying whose opinion or statement is being reported. This is a more formal use, with it as the subject and a that-clause, e.g.
These structures are often used to express an opinion which is generally held. An alternative passive structure with a to-infinitive is therefore sometimes used to make the subject of the reported clause become the main topic of the sentence, e.g.
Reporting orders and requests
If someone says something which orders or requests someone to do something, this can be reported with verbs such as tell and ask, followed by an object and a to-infinitive, e.g.
Other verbs that occur in this pattern include order, command, forbid, instruct, beg and urge, e.g.
Some of these reporting verbs are often used in the passive, with the original hearer (the object of the reporting clause in the examples above) becoming the subject of the reporting clause, e.g.
When reporting a direct order, it is also possible to use verbs such as must or have to in the reported clause, e.g.
The reporting verb ask can be used with or without an object before the to-infinitive clause, but note the difference in meaning, e.g.
He asked him to leave early. = He wanted someone else to leave early
The reporting verb demand is always followed directly by a to-infinitive, e.g.
It can also occur with a that-clause, e.g.
Use of the that-clause in such contexts is much more formal. It implies a suggestion about something that the hearer needs to do or that would be desirable for them to do. Often, the modal should is left out, i.e.
This use of the base form of a verb (tell) without a modal (should), is often referred to as the subjunctive.
If someone makes a suggestion about what they or someone else could do, this can be reported with verbs such as advise, propose, recommend and suggest, followed by an -ing clause, e.g.
'It would be useful to read the last chapter.' = The teacher recommended reading the last chapter.
These verbs can also be followed by that-clause, e.g.
In more formal contexts, a subjunctive form is sometimes used, e.g.
The verb advise can alternatively be followed by an object plus to-infinitive clause, e.g.
Reporting offers and intentions
The reporting verb promise can be followed either directly by a to-infinitive, or by a that-clause, to report what someone offered or intended to do, e.g.
'I’ll look after the kids.' = She promised to look after the kids.
Note that with a that-clause, the person who does the promising and the person referred to in the reported clause may be different, e.g.
The verbs offer and volunteer are always followed directly by a to-infinitive clause, e.g.
The verbs intend and want can be used to report what someone planned or wanted to do. They are also always followed directly by a to-infinitive clause, e.g.
Verbs and tenses
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