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Basics. Reported Speech.

Reported Speech

Reported speech, also known as indirect speech, is a way to express what someone else has said without directly quoting their exact words. It is commonly used to relay information or recount events in a more natural and conversational manner.

To form reported speech, we usually change the tense of the original statement, and we replace the original speaker's pronouns with the appropriate third-person pronouns. Additionally, we may need to adjust time expressions and other contextual details.

For example, consider the following direct speech:

He said, "I am studying English."

When we convert it to reported speech, we get:

He said (that) he was studying English.

Here's a simple table to illustrate some of the main tense changes:

Direct SpeechReported Speech
Present SimplePast Simple
Present ContinuousPast Continuous
Present PerfectPast Perfect
Past SimplePast Perfect

Remember that the reported speech should convey the meaning of the original statement accurately, even if some of the words or tenses are changed. Practice with various examples to get a better understanding of how to form and use reported speech correctly.

Here are four more examples of reported speech:

  1. Direct speech: She says, "We are going to the cinema tonight." Reported speech: She says (that) they are going to the cinema tonight.

  2. Direct speech: They told us, "We have finished our project." Reported speech: They told us (that) they had finished their project.

  3. Direct speech: He said to her, "I will call you later." Reported speech: He told her (that) he would call her later.

  4. Direct speech: She said, "They were waiting for the bus." Reported speech: She said (that) they had been waiting for the bus.

Edited: 4/16/2023

Indirect Speech

Verbs often undergo tense changes in indirect speech. This commonly occurs in content clauses (typically that-clauses and indirect questions, when governed by a predicate of saying (thinking, knowing, etc.) which is in the past tense or conditional mood.

In this situation the following tense and aspect changes occur relative to the original words.

Changes to past:

  • "I like apples." → He said that he liked apples.
  • "We are riding." → They claimed that they were riding.
  • "You have sinned." → I was told that I had sinned.

Changes to past perfect (and sometimes past progressive to past perfect progressive):

  • "They finished all the wine earlier." → He thought they had finished all the wine earlier.

This change does not normally apply, however, when the past tense is used to denote an unreal rather than a past circumstance (e.g., expressions of wish, conditional sentences and dependent clauses):

  • "I would do anything you asked." → He said he would do anything she asked.

Changes to conditional, also referred to as future-in-the-past (i.e. will/shall changes to would/should):

  • "The match will end in a draw." → He predicted that the match would end in a draw.

The modals can and may change to their preterite forms could and might :

  • "We may attend." → She told us that they might attend.

Verb forms not covered by any of the above rules (verbs already in the past perfect, or formed with would or other modals not having a preterite equivalent) do not change. Note that application of the above rules is not compulsory; sometimes the original verb tense is retained, particularly when the statement (with the original tense) remains equally valid at the moment of reporting:

  • "The earth orbits the sun." → Copernicus stated that the earth orbits the sun.

Note also that the above tense changes do not apply when the verb of saying (etc.) is not past or conditional in form; in particular there are no such changes when that verb is in the present perfect: He has said that he likes apples.

License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Source: wikipedia (1)


Verbs constitute one of the main word classes in the English language. Like other types of words in the language, English verbs are not heavily inflected. Most combinations of tense, aspect, mood and voice are expressed periphrastically, using constructions with auxiliary verbs.

Generally, the only inflected forms of an English verb are a third person singular present tense form in -s, a past tense, a past participle (which may be the same as the past tense), and a form ending in -ing that serves as a present participle and gerund. Most verbs inflect in a simple regular fashion, although there are about 200 irregular verbs; the irregularity in nearly all cases concerns the past tense and past participle forms. The copula verb be has a larger number of different inflected forms, and is highly irregular.

A typical English verb may have five different inflected forms:

  • The base form or plain form (go, write, climb), which has several uses—as an infinitive, imperative, present subjunctive, and present indicative except in the third-person singular
  • The -s form (goes, writes, climbs), used as the present indicative in the third-person singular
  • the past tense or preterite (went, wrote, climbed)
  • The past participle (gone, written, climbed) – this is identical to the past tense in the case of regular verbs and some irregular ones (here the first two verbs are irregular and the third regular)
  • The -ing form (going, writing, climbing), used as a present participle, gerund, and (de)verbal nounThe verb be has a larger number of different forms (am, is, are, was, were, etc.), while the modal verbs have a more limited number of forms.

Some forms of be and of certain other auxiliary verbs also have contracted forms ( 's, 're, 've, etc.).

In English, verbs frequently appear in combinations containing one or more auxiliary verbs and a nonfinite form (infinitive or participle) of a main (lexical) verb.


The first verb in such a combination is the finite verb, the remainder are nonfinite (although constructions in which even the leading verb is nonfinite are also possible – see below). Such combinations are sometimes called compound verbs; more technically they may be called verb catenae, since they are not generally strict grammatical constituents of the clause.

  • The dog was barking very loudly.
  • My hat has been cleaned.
  • Jane does not really like us.

As the last example shows, the words making up these combinations do not always remain consecutive.

Tenses, Aspects and Moods

The means English uses for expressing the three categories of tense (time reference), aspect and mood are somewhat conflated. English has only limited means for expressing these categories through verb conjugation, and tends mostly to express them periphrastically, using the verb combinations mentioned in the previous section. The tenses, aspects and moods that may be identified in English are described below (although the terminology used differs significantly between authors). Note that in common usage, particular tense–aspect–mood combinations such as "present progressive" and "conditional perfect" are often referred to simply as "tenses".

License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Source: wikipedia (1, 2, 3, 4)

Simple Past

The simple past, past simple or past indefinite, sometimes called the preterite, is the basic form of the past tense in Modern English. It is used principally to describe events in the past, although it also has some other uses. Regular English verbs form the simple past in -ed; however there are a few hundred irregular verbs with different forms.

The term "simple" is used to distinguish the syntactical construction whose basic form uses the plain past tense alone, from other past tense constructions which use auxiliaries in combination with participles, such as the past perfect and past progressive.


Regular verbs form the simple past end-ed; however there are a few hundred irregular verbs with different forms. For details see.

Most verbs have a single form of the simple past, independent of the person or number of the subject (there is no addition of -s for the third person singular as in the simple present).

However, the copula verb be has two past tense forms: was for the first and third persons singular, and were in other instances.

The form were can also be used in place of was in conditional clauses and the like; for information on this, see subjunctive.

This is the only case in modern English where a distinction in form is made between the indicative and subjunctive moods in the past tense.

Questions, other clauses requiring inversion, negations with not, and emphatic forms of the simple past use the auxiliary did.

A full list of forms is given below, using the (regular) verb help as an example:

  • Basic simple past:
    • I/you/he/she/it/we/they helped
  • Expanded (emphatic) simple past:
    • I/you/he/she/it/we/they did help
  • Question form:
    • Did I/you/he/she/it/we/they help?
  • Negative:
    • I/you/he/she/it/we/they did not (didn't) help
  • Negative question:
    • Did I/you/he/she/it/we/they not help? / Didn't I/you/he/she/it/we/they help?


The simple past is used for a single event (or sequence of such events) in the past, and also for past habitual action:

  • He took the money and ran.
  • I visited them every day for a year.

It can also refer to a past state:

  • I knew how to fight even as a child.

For action that was ongoing at the time referred to, the past progressive is generally used instead (e.g. I was cooking). The same can apply to states, if temporary (e.g. the ball was lying on the sidewalk), but some stative verbs do not generally use the progressive aspect at all, and in these cases the simple past is used even for a temporary state:

  • The dog was in its kennel.

However, with verbs of sensing, it is common in such circumstances to use could see in place of saw, could hear in place of heard, etc.

  • I felt cold.

If one action interrupts another, then it is usual for the interrupted (ongoing) action to be expressed with the past progressive, and the action that interrupted it to be in the simple past:

  • Your mother called while you were cooking.

The simple past is often close in meaning to the present perfect.

The simple past is used when the event happened at a particular time in the past, or during a period which ended in the past (i.e. a period that does not last up until the present time).

This time frame may be explicitly stated, or implicit in the context (for example the past tense is often used when describing a sequence of past events).

  • I was born in 1980.
  • We turned the oven off two minutes ago.
  • I came home at 6 o'clock.
  • When did they get married?
  • We wrote two letters this morning.
  • She placed the letter on the table, sighed, and left the house.Contrast these examples with those given at.

Note also that for past actions that occurred before the relevant past time frame, the past perfect is used.

Various compound constructions exist for denoting past habitual action.

The sentence When I was young, I played football every Saturday might alternatively be phrased using used to (... I used to play ...) or using would (... I would play...).

The simple past also has some uses in which it does not refer to a past time.

  • If he walked faster, he would get home earlier.
  • I wish I knew what his name was.

These are generally in condition clauses and some other dependent clauses referring to hypothetical circumstances, as well as certain expressions of wish:

  • He said he wanted to go on the slide.

Past Progressive

The past progressive or past continuous construction combines progressive aspect with past tense, and is formed using the past tense of be (was or were) with the present participle of the main verb.

It indicates an action that was ongoing at the past time being considered:

  • At three o'clock yesterday, I was working in the garden. For stative verbs that do not use the progressive aspect, the simple past is used instead (At three o'clock yesterday we were in the garden).

The past progressive is often used to denote an action that was interrupted by an event, or for two actions taking place in parallel:

  • While I was washing the dishes, I heard a loud noise.
  • While you were washing the dishes, Sue was walking the dog.(Interrupted actions in the past can also sometimes be denoted using the past perfect progressive.)

The past progressive can also be used to refer to past action that occurred over a range of time and is viewed as an ongoing situation:

  • I was working in the garden all day yesterday. That could also be expressed using the simple past, as I worked..., which implies that the action is viewed as a unitary event (although the effective meaning is not very different).

Past Perfect

The past perfect, sometimes called the pluperfect, combines past tense with perfect aspect; it is formed by combining had (the past tense of the auxiliary have) with the past participle of the main verb.

It is used when referring to an event that took place prior to the time frame being considered.

This time frame may be stated explicitly, as a stated time or the time of another past action:

  • We had finished the job by 2 o'clock.
  • He had already left when we arrived.

The time frame may also be understood implicitly from the previous or later context:

  • I was eating ... I had invited Jim to the meal but he was unable to attend. (i.e. I invited him before I started eating)
  • I had lost my way. (i.e. this happened prior to the time of the past events I am describing or am about to describe)

Compare He had left when we arrived (where his leaving preceded our arrival), with the form with the simple past, He left when we arrived (where his leaving was concurrent with or shortly after our arrival).

Note that unlike the present perfect, the past perfect can readily be used with an adverb specifying a past time frame for the occurrence.

For example, while it is incorrect to say I have done it last Friday (the use of last Friday, specifying the past time, would require the simple past rather than the present perfect), there is no such objection to a sentence like "I had done it the previous Friday".

The past perfect can also be used for states or repeated occurrences pertaining over a period up to a time in the past, particularly in stating "for how long" or since when". However, if the state is temporary and the verb can be used in the progressive aspect, the past perfect progressive would normally be used instead. Some examples with the plain past perfect:

  • I had lived in that house for 10 years.
  • The children had been in their room since lunchtime.

Past Perfect Progressive

The past perfect progressive or past perfect continuous (also known as the pluperfect progressive or pluperfect continuous) combines perfect progressive aspect with past tense.

It is formed by combining had (the past tense of auxiliary have), been (the past participle of be), and the present participle of the main verb.

Uses of the past perfect progressive are analogous to those of the present perfect progressive, except that the point of reference is in the past.

For example:

  • I was tired because I had been running.
  • By yesterday morning they had already been working for twelve hours.
  • Among the witnesses was John Smith, who had been staying at the hotel since July 10.

This form is sometimes used for actions in the past that were interrupted by some event (compare the use of the past progressive as given above).

For example:

  • I had been working on my novel when she entered the room to talk to me.

This implies that I stopped working when she came in (or had already stopped a short time before); the plain past progressive (I was working...) would not necessarily carry this implication.

If the verb in question does not use the progressive aspect, then the plain past perfect is used instead.

The past perfect progressive may also have additional specific uses similar to those of the plain past perfect.

License: CC BY-SA 3.0. Source: wikipedia (1, 2, 3,