Indirect Speech


Communicating effectively requires us to master a variety of grammatical rules. One such critical element is the appropriate use of ‘Indirect Speech’, also known as reported speech. Indirect speech allows us to convey what another person has said without quoting them directly.

What is Indirect Speech?

Indirect Speech is a way of expressing the words or utterances of a speaker in a reported manner. In contrast to direct speech, where the original speaker’s words are quoted verbatim, indirect speech is more about reporting the essence or meaning of what the speaker said rather than quoting them exactly.

For example:

Direct Speech: Lisa said, “I am going shopping.”

Indirect Speech: Lisa said that she was going shopping.

Changes in Verb Tenses

Tense Shifts

When you transform sentences from direct to indirect speech, the verb tenses typically shift back a step in time. This phenomenon is often referred to as ‘sequence of tenses’ or ‘backshift’. However, the backshift is not applied if the spoken words still apply at the time of reporting or the words express a universal truth.

Here are the typical conversions:

  • Present Simple changes to Past Simple. E.g., “I like pizza” becomes “She said that she liked pizza.”
  • Present Continuous changes to Past Continuous. E.g., “I am eating pizza” becomes “She said that she was eating pizza.”
  • Will changes to would. E.g., “I will go” becomes “He said that he would go.”
  • Past Simple changes to Past Perfect. E.g., “I ate lunch” becomes “She said that she had eaten lunch.”

Exceptions to Tense Shifts

There are exceptions to these rules, such as when the direct speech element is a universal truth or a fact. Consider the below examples:

  • John said, “The sun rises in the east” becomes “John said that the sun rises in the east.”
  • She said, “Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius” becomes “She said that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius.”

Changes in Pronouns and Time Expressions

Pronoun Changes

When changing from direct to indirect speech, it’s often necessary to modify the pronouns to match the speaker and listener’s point of view. For example:

  • “I love you,” he said. (Direct)
  • He said he loved me. (Indirect)

Time Expression Changes

Time expressions often undergo necessary modifications when moving from direct to indirect speech. Here are some examples:

  • “Today” becomes “That day.”
  • “Now” becomes “Then.”
  • “Tomorrow” becomes “The next day” or “the following day.”
  • “Next week” becomes “The following week.”

Indirect Commands and Requests

We can also convey commands and requests indirectly. For indirect commands, we use “to” + base verb and for indirect requests we use “if” or “whether” + subject + could/would, followed by the base verb.


  • Direct: “Close the window!” – Indirect: He told me to close the window.
  • Direct: “Can you lend me the book?” – Indirect: She asked if I could lend her the book.

Indirect Questions

When posing indirect questions, we need to ensure that the word order follows the structure of a standard statement, rather than a direct question.


Direct: “Where are you going?” – Indirect: He asked me where I was going.


Mastering indirect speech is essential but can be challenging because of the need to adjust verb tenses, pronouns, and time expressions. However, with practice, it becomes easier, and steadily, you find yourself communicating more effectively and efficiently, especially in formal and written contexts. Keep practicing, and soon converting direct speech to indirect speech will become second nature.

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