English Grammar Direct and Indirect Speech Rules

 We often have to give information about what people say or think. In order to do this you can use direct or quoted speech, or indirect or reported speech.

Direct Speech

Saying exactly what someone has said is called direct speech (sometimes called quoted speech) Here what a person says appears within quotation marks (“…”) and should be word for word.

For example: She said, “Today’s lesson is on presentations.” or “Today’s lesson is on presentations,” she said.

Indirect Speech

Indirect speech (sometimes called reported speech), doesn’t use quotation marks to enclose what the person said and it doesn’t have to be word for word. When reporting speech the tense usually changes. This is because when we use reported speech, we are usually talking about a time in the past (because obviously the person who spoke originally spoke in the past). The verbs therefore usually have to be in the past too.

For example:
Direct Speech: “I’m going to the cinema”.
Indirect Speech: He said he was going to the cinema.

Basic Tense Chart

The tenses generally move backwards in this way

present simplepast simple
I’m a teacherHe said he was a teacher
present continuouspast continuous
I’m having lunch with my parentsHe said he was having lunch with his parents.
present perfect simplepast perfect simple
I’ve been to France three timesHe said he had been to France three times.
present perfect continuouspast perfect continuous
I’ve been working very hardHe said he had been working very hard.
past simplepast perfect
I bought a new carHe said he had bought a new car.
past continuouspast perfect continuous
It was raining earlierHe said it had been raining earlier.
past perfectpast perfect
The play had started when I arrivedNO CHANGE POSSIBLE
past perfect continuouspast perfect continuous
I’d already been living in London for five yearsNO CHANGE POSSIBLE

Personal pronouns

You also need to be careful with personal pronouns. They need to be changed according to the situation. You need to know the context.

For example, there is possible confusion when you try to change reported speech to direct speech:

  • She said she’d been waiting for hours. (Is she one person or two different people?)
  • I told them they would have to ask permission. (Are we talking about two groups of people or only one?)

Verb Forms

Other verb forms also sometimes change:

I’ll come and see you soonHe said he would come and see me soon.
I can swim under water for two minutesHe said he could swim under water for two minutes.
musthad to
All tickets must be bought in advanceHe said that all tickets had to be bought in advance.
What shall we do about it?He asked what we should do about it.
May I smoke?He asked if he might smoke.

Things are slightly more complicated with imperatives.

positive imperativetell + infinitive
Shut up!He told me to shut up.
negative imperativetell + not + infinitive
Don’t do that again!He told me not to do it again.
imperatives as requestsask + infinitive
Please give me some moneyHe asked me to give him some money.

When verbs don’t follow the rules?

The verb tenses do not always follow the rules shown above. For example, if the reporting verb is in the present tense, there is no change in the reported sentence. Also, a sentence in direct speech in a present or future tense can remain the same if what is said is still true or relevant.

For example:

  • You’ve invited someone for dinner at your house, and the phone rings. It’s them! They say:
  • I’m sorry, but I think I’m going to be a bit late. There’s a lot of traffic.
  • After you finish speaking on the phone, you say to someone else:
  • That was Juan. He said he thinks he’s going to be late because there’s a lot of traffic.

Another example:

  • A friend says to you: Maria’s ill. She’s got chickenpox!
  • You say to someone else: Laura said that Maria’s ill. She’s got chickenpox.
  • However, the following day you see Maria at the beach. You’re surprised and say to her:
  • Laura said that you were ill. She said you had chickenpox.
  • This has to change to the past because it isn’t true. Maria obviously isn’t ill.

Direct statements in a past tense do not always change either, because a change might alter the meaning or just make it sound confusing.

For example:

  • A friend is telling you about the horrible weather: It started raining heavily when I left work. This is where things get confusing:
  • He said it had started raining heavily when he had left work (it sounds horrible and the sentence is almost nothing but verbs).
  • He said it had started raining heavily when he left work (is wrong because it means it was already raining when he left work)
  • He said it started raining heavily when he left work (is the best version because it is accurate, short, and there is no confusion because of the time context)

Generally speaking, the past simple and continuous don’t always need to be changed if: there is a time context which makes everything clear, and/or there is another action already using the past perfect, which might alter the meaning or make things confusing.

Time and Place References

Time and place references often have to change:
todaythat day
this weekthat week
tomorrowthe following day, the next day, the day after
next weekthe following week, the next week, the week after
yesterdaythe previous day, the day before
last weekthe previous week, the week before
agopreviously, before
2 weeks ago2 weeks previously, 2 weeks before
tonightthat night
last Saturdaythe previous Saturday, the Saturday before
next Saturdaythe following Saturday, the next Saturday, the Saturday after, that Saturday


  • I went to the theatre last night.
  • He said he had gone to the theatre the night before.
  • I’m having a party next weekend.
  • He said he was having a party the next weekend.
  • I’m staying here until next week.
  • He said he was staying there until the following week.
  • I came over from London 3 years ago.
  • He said he had come over from London 3 years before.

Universal Truth, Habitual Facts etc.


(i) If the Reported Speech states some General, Universal or Habitual Truth, Proverb, Historical event in the past, Improbable future condition, the Present Tense used there is not changed into the corresponding past form.

(ii) The Past Indefinite Tense or the Past Continuous Tense is not changed if the Reported Speech states two actions which took place at the same time.

(iii) The Simple Past is not changed if the Reported Speech states a past historical event or fact.

  1. Direct: My friend said, “I am an early riser.”
    Indirect: My friend said that he is an early riser.
  2. Direct: Father said, “Man is the only animal that cooks his food.”
    Indirect: Father said that man is the only animal that cooks his food.
  3. Direct: The teacher said, “Honesty is the best policy.”
    Indirect: The teacher said that honesty is the best policy.
  4. Direct: The teacher said, “The earth moves round the sun.”
    Indirect: The teacher said that the earth moves round the sun.
  5. Direct: Sarla said, “When Ram was reading Sham was writing.”
    Indirect: Sarla said that when Ram was reading Sham was writing.
  6. Direct: The teacher said, “Akbar died in 1605 AD.”
    Indirect: The teacher said that Akbar died in 1605 AD.

(iv) Vocative and nominative of address are omitted altogether and their sense is expressed in the sentence;

  1. Direct: The speaker said, “Gentlemen, I will tell you what is going there.”
    Indirect: The speaker told his audience (those present) that he would tell them what was going there
  2. Direct: He said, “I hope, friends, you will support me.”
    Indirect: He said that he hoped they would support him.

(v) Past tense subjunctive after would like, would rather, etc. do not change:

  1. Direct: He said, “I would rather she played.”
    Indict: He said that he would rather she played.

(vi) Pure imaginary conditions (if …. were clauses) do not change:

  1. Direct: He said, “If I were rich, I would settle in Mumbai.
    Indirect: He said that if he were rich, he would settle in Mumbai.

(vii) Simple Past or Past Continuous tense in Time Clauses do not normally change. The main verb may either remain unchanged or may become the past perfect, as,

  1. Direct: He said. “When we lived/were living in Chennai, we often visited Rameshwarm”
    Indirect: He said that when they lived/ were living in Chennai, they often visited/ had visite Rameshwarm


Rule: If the direct speech has a pronoun, its person is changed, when necessary, to refer in the indirect to the same individual as it does in the direct.

First Person

A pronoun of the first person (I, my, me, our, we) in direct speech is changed in the indirect to the same person as the subject of the introductory verb, e.g.

  1. Direct: He said, “I can cross this river.”
    Indirect:  He said that he could cross that river.
  2. Direct: You said. “I can cross this river.”
    Indirect:  You said that you could cross that river.
  3. Direct: I said, “I can cross this river.”
    Indirect: I said that I could cross that river.

Change in Verb

Tense in Direct SpeechTense in Indirect Speech
Present IndefinitePast Indefinite
Present ContinuousPast Continuous
Present PerfectPast Perfect
Present Perfect ContinuousPast Perfect Continuous
Past IndefinitePast Perfect
Past ContinuousPast Perfect Continuous
Future Tense shall/willFuture in the Past should & would
Conditional (would/should work)Perfect Conditional, (would/should have worked)

Must changes as follows:

(i) Must remains unchanged when it indicates a permanent rule, command, prohibition, adv intention.

(ii) When must indicates necessity or compulsion it is changed into:

  • (a) had to for present or immediate necessity.
  • (b) would have to for future necessity.

Note: In other words, the reported verb goes one step into the past.

1. Simple Present to Simple Past
  • Direct: He said, “The boy goes home.”
    Indirect: He said that the boy went home.
2. Present Continuous to Past Continuous
  • Direct: Ram said, “I am reading a book.”
    Indirect: Ram said that he was reading a book.
3. Present Perfect to Past Perfect
  • Direct: The girl said, “I have lost my pen.”
    Indirect: The girl said that she had lost her pen.
4. Present Perfect Continuous to Past Perfect Continuous
  • Direct: He said, “Ram has been going.”
    Indirect: He said that Ram had been going.
5. Past Indefinite to Past Perfect
  • Direct: Mother said, “I bought a watch for you.”
  • Indirect: Mother said that she had bought a watch for him.
6. Past Continuous to Past Perfect Continuous
  • Direct: Raju said, “I was repairing a car.”
    Indirect: Raju said that he had been repairing a car.
7. Future Tense (shall/will) to future in the Past (should/would)
  • Direct: The teacher said, “I shall give you notes.”
    Indirect: The teacher said that he would give them notes.
8. Conditional to Perfect Conditional Direct:
  • Direct: He said, “If I had the money I could buy the car.”
    Indirect: She said that if he had the money he could have bought the car. 
9. Past Perfect Tense: No Change
  • Direct: She said, “I had gone to Bhagalpur.”
    Indirect: She said that she had gone to Bhagalpur.
10. Auxiliary Verbs (would, should, might, could, ought, must) — No Change
  • Direct: He said, “I would like to take milk.”
    Indirect: He said that he would like to take milk.
  • Direct: The boy said, “The teacher could have solved it in no time.”
    Indirect: The boy said that the teacher could have solved it in no time.
  • Direct: He said, “The boy must apologise to the teacher.”
    Indirect: He said that the boy must apologise to the teacher.