Reported speech

Tense changes in reported speech

Indirect speech (reported speech) focuses more on the content of what someone said rather than their exact words. In indirect speech, the structure of the reported clause depends on whether the speaker is reporting a statement, a question or a command.

Normally, the tense in reported speech is one tense back in time from the tense in direct speech:
She said, "I am tired." = She said that she was tired.

Phrase in Direct Speech Equivalent in Reported Speech
Simple present Simple past
"I always drink coffee", she said She said that she always drank coffee.
Present continuous Past continuous
"I am reading a book", he explained. He explained that he was reading a book
Simple past Past perfect
"Bill arrived on Saturday", he said. He said that Bill had arrived on Saturday.
Present perfect Past perfect
"I have been to Spain", he told me. He told me that he had been to Spain.
Past perfect Past perfect
"I had just turned out the light," he explained. He explained that he had just turned out the light.
Present perfect continuous Past perfect continuous
They complained, "We have been waiting for hours". They complained that they had been waiting for hours.
Past continuous Past perfect continuous
"We were living in Paris", they told me. They told me that they had been living in Paris.
Future Present conditional
"I will be in Geneva on Monday", he said. He said that he would be in Geneva on Monday.
Future continuous Conditional continuous
She said, "I'll be using the car next Friday". She said that she would be using the car next Friday.

You do not need to change the tense if the reporting verb is in the present, or if the original statement was about something that is still true (but this is only for things which are general facts, and even then usually we like to change the tense) , e.g.

  • He says he has missed the train but he'll catch the next one.
  • We explained that it is very difficult to find our house.
  • Direct speech: The sky is blue.
  • Reported speech: She said (that) the sky is/was blue.


These modal verbs do not change in reported speech: might, could, would, should, ought to:

  • We explained, "It could be difficult to find our house." = We explained that it could be difficult to find our house.
  • She said, "I might bring a friend to the party." = She said that she might bring a friend to the party.
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