Direct And Indirect Speech Basic Rules

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.

Simple present will change into simple past.

  • She said, “I am fine.”
  • She said that she was fine.

Present continuous will change into past continuous tense.

  • She said, “I am going.”
  • She said that she was going.

Present perfect tense will change into past perfect tense.

  • She said, “I have finished.”
  • She said that she had finished.

Present perfect progressive will change into past perfect progressive.

  • 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 don’t want to play any more.”
  • He says that he doesn’t want to play any more.
  • 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.

Rules For The Change Of Pronouns

A change in speaker may mean a change of pronoun.

Compare:

  • Alice: “am going home.”
  • Mary: Alice said that she was going home.

In the example given above, Alice says to refer to herself. Mary, talking about what Alice said, naturally uses she.

  • Bill said that he didn’t like the party. (NOT Bill said that I didn’t like the party.)

Rules for the change of Pronouns

  1. First person pronouns(I, we, me, mine, us, ours) normally change to the third person (he, she, they, his, her, their, him, her, them).
  • He told her, “want to meet your father.”
  • He told her that he wanted to meet her father.
  1. There will be no change in the pronoun when the speaker reports his own words.
  • I said, “am going.”
  • I said that was going.
  1. Second person pronouns (you, yours) change according to the person of the object of the reporting verb.
  • He told her, love you.”
  • He told her that he loved her.
  • I told him, “You are a stupid.”
  • I told him that he was a stupid.
  1. Third person pronouns do not normally change in the reported speech.
  • She said, “love him.”
  • She said that she loved him.

Rules for the change of adverbs

Words showing nearness in direct speech are normally changed into words showing distance in indirect speech. The most common changes are given below.

Now/just changes to then
Come sometimes changes to go
Today changes to that day/the same day
Tomorrow changes to the next day/the following day
Yesterday changes to the day before/the previous day
Next week/month/year changes to the following week/month/year
Last week/month/year changes to the previous week/month/year
Ago changes to before
This sometimes changes to that
Here changes to there

Examples are:

  • He said, “I won’t answer your question now.”
  • He said that he wouldn’t answer my question then.
  • He told her, “I want to leave for Delhi tonight.
  • He told her that he wanted to leave for Delhi that night.
  • He said, “I will come tomorrow.
  • He said that he would come the next day.
  • She said, “I will see you here tomorrow.”
  • She said that she would see me there the next day.
  • “I have an appointment next week,” she said.
  • She said that she had an appointment the following week.
  • “I was on holiday last week,” he told us.
  • He told us that he had been on holiday the previous week.
  • “John called 10 minutes ago,” she told me.
  • She told me that John had called 10 minutes before.
  • “Do you like this shirt?” she asked.
  • She asked if I liked that shirt.
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Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I am Manjusha. This is my blog where I give English grammar lessons and worksheets.

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