Changes in Indirect Speech

Welcome to a comprehensive tutorial providing guidance on the proper use, types, and rules of indirect speech in English grammar. Indirect speech, also called reported speech, allows us to share another person’s exact words without using quotes. It is particularly useful in written language. This tutorial aims to brief you about the changes that occur when switching from direct speech to indirect speech. It further explains the necessary rules which must be followed during this transition.

Understanding Direct and Indirect Speech

Direct speech refers to the exact wording that someone uses when performing an act of speech. However, indirect speech implicitly shares the content of the person’s original words.


Direct Speech: He said, “I am hungry.”
Indirect Speech: He said that he was hungry.

Notably, an essential component of indirect speech is the change in verb tense. In the direct speech example, the speaker uses the present tense “am.” In the indirect version, even though the speaker is still hungry, the tense changes to the past “was.”

Changes in Verb Tenses

The verb tense in indirect speech is one step back in time from the tense in the direct speech. Here are the common changes:

  • Present Simple becomes Past Simple.
  • Present Continuous becomes Past Continuous.
  • Present Perfect becomes Past Perfect.
  • Present Perfect Continuous becomes Past Perfect Continuous.
  • Past Simple becomes Past Perfect.


Direct: He says, “I need help.”
Indirect: He said he needed help.

Direct: She is saying, “I am reading a book.”
Indirect: She was saying that she was reading a book.

Changes in Time and Place References

Besides the tense, word usage for place and time often changes when converting from direct to indirect speech.

  • ‘Now’ changes to ‘then’.
  • ‘Today’ changes to ‘that day’.
  • ‘Yesterday’ turns into ‘the day before’ or ‘the previous day’.
  • ‘Tomorrow’ changes to ‘the next day’ or ‘the following day’.
  • ‘Last week/month/year’ switches to ‘the previous week/month/year’.
  • ‘Next week/month/year’ changes to ‘the following week/month/year’.
  • ‘Here’ turns into ‘there’.


Direct: He said, “I will do it tomorrow.”
Indirect: He said that he would do it the next day.

Direct: She said, “I was here.”

Indirect: She said that she was there.

Changes in Modals

Modals also change when transforming direct speech into indirect speech. Here are some common changes:

  • ‘Can’ changes to ‘could’.
  • ‘May’ changes to ‘might’.
  • ‘Will’ changes to ‘would’.
  • ‘Shall’ changes to ‘should’.


Direct: She said, “I can play the piano.”
Indirect: She said that she could play the piano.

Direct: He said, “I will go shopping.”
Indirect: He said that he would go shopping.

Reporting Orders, Requests, and Questions

When reporting orders, requests, and questions, the structure also changes. The following is the structure:

  • ‘To’ + infinitive for orders.
  • Interrogative word + subject + verb for questions.
  • Could/Would + subject + verb for polite requests.


Direct: He said to her, “Close the door.”
Indirect: He told her to close the door.

Direct: She asked, “Where is the station?”
Indirect: She asked where the station was.

In conclusion, reported speech becomes easier to understand and use effectively with practice. Understanding the transition from direct to indirect speech is vital to expressing yourself accurately and professionally, especially in written English. This guide provides the foundational information for mastering the changes in indirect speech. Practice these rules to become more fluent and confident in your English communication skills.

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