What is grammar?

Language consists of words – spoken or written – which we use to communicate with other people. Grammar is the structure of that language: the way it’s used, and the conventions that help us understand what is meant from the context.  We learn grammar as toddlers when we learn to speak, so if you speak correctly it’s likely that your children will too, without ever having been taught formally. Continue reading “Grammar”

Reported Speech


Direct speech

If you want to write what someone has said, the simplest way is to repeat the exact words that they had used in quotation marks (“…”). This is called direct speech.

“I really enjoyed the meal,” he said.
She went upstairs and shouted, “Time to get up!”

If you mention the speaker at the end of the sentence, and do not say he or she, you usually reverse the order of the subject and the verb. For example:

“It’s much too cold to swim,” said Frank.
“Go back to your room,” said her mother.

Indirect speech

You can also report what someone has said without using quotation marks. This is called indirect speech. The usual way of doing this is to use a clause which begins with + (that). For example:

“I’m tired!”
He said he was tired.  OR He said that he was tired.

That is more common in written English and in formal spoken English.

Changing from direct to indirect speech
When changing from direct to indirect speech, you need to change the grammar in certain ways.

Verb tense forms usually need to change. In most cases, you change the present tense into the past tense.

She said, “I am staying at the Chelsea Hotel.”
She said that she was staying at the Chelsea Hotel.

If the direct speech is already in the past tense, you need to put the verb even further back in time, using had. This applies to both past tense and present perfect forms of the verb.

He said, “I came by bus.”
He said that he had come by bus.

She said, “I’ve definitely seen John recently”.
She said that she had definitely seen John recently.

However, you do not use this rule if the verb in the direct speech already uses had.

She said, “I had given up hope of seeing him again.”
She said that she had given up hope of seeing him again.

The correct relationship between the verbs in the reporting clause and the verb in the reported clause is called the sequence of tenses.

If you report something that someone said, which is still true now, you do not need to change the tense of the verb.

“I want to get married.”
She said she wants to get married.

“Blue’s my favourite colour.”
She said that blue’s her favourite colour.

If the direct speech contains will, shall, or may, these also need to change.

will/would  shall /should  may/might

She said, “I will see you soon.”
She said that she would see us soon.

Would, should, could, might, and must do not change.

She said, “I could visit him on Thursday.”
She said she could visit him on Thursday.

You also need to change certain personal pronouns. I and you have to be changed to he and she, unless the original people are still taking part in the conversation. Similarly, my and your need to be changed to his and her.

Mary said to John, “I saw your cat.”
Mary said that she had seen your cat
. (if the person who says this is talking to John)
Mary said that she had seen his cat. (if the person who says this is not talking to John)

You also need to change times and places which depend on the speaker”s point of view.

He said, “I saw the car here yesterday.”
He said that he’d seen the car there the day before
In this case here becomes there because you are in a different place, and yesterday becomes the day before because you are now speaking at a later time.

Similarly, now becomes then, last week becomes the week before, two months ago becomes two months before, tomorrow becomes the next day, and so on. Of course, if the time phrase does not depend on the speaker’s point of view, it can be used without change.

He said, “I bought the car in November 1996.”
He said he had bought the car in November 1996.


When you are changing a question from direct speech into indirect speech, you follow the same kinds of rules as for statements. The only differences are that you need to use a different word to introduce the reported speech, and the word order of the question becomes like that of a statement. You end the sentence with a full stop, not a question mark.

You use if or whether to introduce a yes/no question.

I asked, “Does he eat meat?”
I asked whether he ate meat.  OR I asked if he ate meat.

You introduce questions where there is a choice in the same way  more usually by using whether than by using if.

I asked, “Is it Karen’s book or Michael’s?”
I asked whether it was Karen’s book or Michael’s.

You introduce questions that begin with who, why, what, how etc by using the word which begins the question in direct speech.

Someone asked, “Why doesn’t she resign?”
Someone asked why she didn’t resign.
She asked, “When will you go back to Japan?”
She asked when he would go back to Japan.

You often mention the person who is being asked the question, by using a pronoun (him, her, them etc) or by mentioning their name.

I asked him if he ate meat.
She asked Michael when he would go back to Japan.


When saying what someone has told or asked another person to do, you usually use an infinitive.

“Go home!”
She told him to go home.
“Can you shut the window?”
She asked him to shut the windo

Don’t confuse say and tell. Don’t say “He said me to go home.” or “He told, Go home!” Say He told me to go home. or He said, “Go home!”

You can download the transformation table of  Reported-Speech