BBC Learning English - Course: Upper-intermediate / Unit 2 / Grammar Reference (2024)

Meaning and use

If someone says something that you want to tell another person, you can report it usingdirect speechor reported speech.

In direct speech we use speech (or quotation) marks to show the exact words the person said.

"I’m hungry."

"I love chicken sandwiches."

We can also use a reporting verb to show who was speaking.

Hesays:"I’m hungry."

Shetellsme: "I love chicken sandwiches."

Sayandtellare both reporting verbs. We usetellwhen we say who we are speaking to.

CORRECT:Shetells meshe loves chicken sandwiches.(The speaker is talking to ‘me’.)

CORRECT:Shesaysshe loves chicken sandwiches.(We don’t know who the speaker is talking to.)

WRONG:Shesays meshe loves chicken sandwiches.(We don’t use ‘me’ with the reporting verb ‘say’.)

CORRECT:She said TO me she loves chicken.

If the reporting verb is in the present tense, then the reported statement stays in the present tense:

Direct speech

"He’shungry", hesays.

Shetellsme, "Ilovechicken sandwiches."

Reported speech


Shetellsme sheloveschicken sandwiches.

If the reporting verb is in the past tense, we usually change the present form to a past form in reported speech.

Direct speech

"He’shungry", hesaid.

Shetoldme, "Ilovechicken sandwiches."

Reported speech


Shetoldme shelovedchicken sandwiches.

We change the pronoun when the speaker or listener changes.

A boy tells his mother:"I’mhungry.

Later, the boy’s mother tells the father:He saidhewas hungry.

We can usethat,but we can also miss it out and the meaning is the same.

He saidthathe was hungry. > He said he was hungry.

She told methatshe loved chicken sandwiches. > She told me she loved chicken sandwiches.


In reported speech, we usually move the direct speech verb one step back in the past.

1) Present simple -> past simple

"Iknowyou." -> She said sheknewhim.

2) Present continuous -> past continuous

"Iam havingcoffee" -> He said hewas havingcoffee.

3) Present perfect -> past perfect

"Ihave finishedmy homework" -> He said hehad finishedhis homework.

4) Present perfect continuous -> past perfect continuous

"Ihave been studyingChinese" -> She said shehad been studyingChinese.

5) Is going to - > was going to

"Iam going togo home" -> She said shewas going togo home.

6) Future simple - > would

"Iwill goto the bank later" -> He said hewould goto the bank later.


1)A reported statement in thepast simpleoften stays the same:

"Idroveto work" -> She said shedroveto work.

2)And you can't go further back in time than thepast perfect, so it stays the same too:

"Ihad drivento work" -> She said shehad drivento work.

3)Modal verbs: some change in reported speech:

“Ican/can'tspeak Turkish” -> She said shecould/couldn'tspeak Turkish.

“Imust/mustn'twash my hair” -> She said shehad to/didn't have towash her hair.

4)Some modal verbs don't change:

“Icouldtake the bus” -> He said hecouldtake the bus.

“Ishouldgo to bed” -> She said sheshouldgo to bed.

“Imightwatch TV” -> He said hemightwatch TV.

5)We don’t change the verb in reported speech if the situation hasn’t changed, for example if it’s a fact or is generally true:

"Iloveyou" -> She told me shelovesme.

6)But we can use the past tense to show you're not certain the other person loves her/him – for example, the other person wasn’t telling the truth

"I love you" -> She said shelovedme.


Adirect questionis:

Where are you from?

Areported questionis:

He asked where I was from.

To form a reported question, you need to follow these steps:

1) Use a reporting verb:

Heaskedwhere I was from.

2) Repeat the question word:

He askedwhereI was from.

3) Change the pronouns:

He asked whereIwas from.

4) Move the tense back:

He asked where Iwasfrom.

5) Use statement word order:

He asked whereI was from.

Note: Yes/no questions

Foryes/no questions, we useiforwhether.

Example: Is it two o'clock?

  • She asked if it was two o'clock
  • She asked whether it was two o'clock

Form summary


"Iloveyou." > He said helovedher.

"I’ve been workinghard." > She told me that she’d been workinghard.

"I’ll seeyou later." > He said hewould seeme later.


"Ididn’t havetime to go shopping." > He said hehadn’t hadtime to go shopping. “Ican’t talkto you." > She told me that shecouldn’t talkto me.

"Iwouldn’t wantto live in the country." > He said hewouldn’t wantto live in the country.


"WherecanI buy a hamburger?" > She askedwhereshecouldbuy a hamburger.

"WhomustI see at the bank?" > He askedwhohehad tosee at the bank.

"Areyougoingto Leila’s party?" > She askedifIwas goingto Leila’s party.

Short answers

“Yes, I am. / No, I’m not.”>I said I was. / I said I wasn’t.

Take note: facts and general truthsWe don’t change the verb in reported speech if the situation hasn’t changed, for example if it’s a fact or is generally true. Compare:

Shetoldme shelovesme.(The speaker uses the present tense to show (s)he believes the other person still loves her/him now.)

Shetoldme shelovedme.(The speaker uses the past tense to show (s)he isn’t certain the other person loves her/him – for example, the other person wasn’t telling the truth.)

Take note: the past perfect

The past perfect doesn’t change in reported speech because there isn’t a verb form further 'back in time'.

"Ihad never eatensushi before I went to Japan." > 'She told me that shehad never eaten sushibefore she went to Japan.

Take note: reporting verbs

We can use different verbs to report our thoughts, opinions or intentions.

"I know which way to go." -> Hethoughthe knew which way to go.

"I stole the books." -> Headmittedthat he had stolen the books.

"Why doesn’t she like me?" -> Hewonderedwhy she didn’t like him.

Spoken English

Some contracted forms in reported speech can be difficult to hear, for example the past perfect and conditional. He asked who’d eatenthe cake. I told him he’d haveto take the train.In the first example, the words ‘who’and ‘had’ becomewho’d. In the second example, ‘he’and ‘would’ becomehe’d. In both examples, two different words are shortened to just a/d/sound. So, listen carefully for past tense contractions – make sure you get them right.

BBC Learning English - Course: Upper-intermediate / Unit 2 / Grammar Reference (2024)


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