Reporting in English

Reporting involves how utterances are conveyed and relayed by people. In reporting, we talk about direct and indirect speeches. A direct speech is a narration of what a person says using the exact words of the person between inverted commas or quotation marks. In a direct speech, no alteration is made to the words used by the original speaker, as exemplified below:

‘I am a solution provider’, said Femi.

‘Tunji is in class’, said Esther.

Indirect speeches, which are also called reported speeches, are indirect narration of a person’s utterances. In effect, such utterances require some grammatical alterations. The alterations happen at the level of tense, modal verbs, and expressions of time and place. These aspects will be explained in the remainder of this article.

At the level of tense, a direct speech in a certain tense will have to change its tense form when reported. For instance, a direct speech in the present tense will change to the past tense in the reported speech. These possible changes in tense form are presented in the table below:

1 Direct Speech

Simple present

‘I don’t want this plan’, said Tobi



Indirect Speech

Past tense

Tobi said that he didn’t want that plan.

2 Present continuous tense

‘I am expecting my aunt’, she said.


Past continuous tense

She said that she was expecting her aunt.



Present perfect tense

‘I have eaten rice’, said Kemi.

Past perfect tense

Kemi said that she had eaten rice.



Present perfect continuous

‘The students have been reading since yesterday’, said Jackson.

Past perfect continuous

Jackson said that the students had been reading since the previous day.



Simple past

‘I gave her the money’, said Jude.

Past perfect

Jude said that he had given her the money.

6 Past continuous tense

‘I was planning the event’, said Femi



Past perfect continuous

Femi said that he had been planning the event



Future tense

‘I will see you on Sunday’, said Lara.


Lara said that she would see me on Sunday.



Future continuous

‘We will be visiting our grandmother as agreed’, the children said.

Conditional continuous

The children said that they would be visiting their grandmother as agreed.




Future perfect

‘I will have washed the car by noon’, she said.

Conditional perfect

She said that she would have washed the car by noon




Future perfect continuous

‘Joseph will have been doing the laundry by this time next week’, Esther said.

Conditional perfect continuous

Esther said that Joseph would have been doing the laundry by that time the following week.




‘We would like to know the terms and conditions of the deal’, they said.


They said that they would like to know the terms and conditions of the deal.

Having treated the major changes in tense form, it is essential to mention some of the exceptions to the rules. First, a present tense does not change its form when it addresses an eternal truth. An example of such eternal truths is given below:

‘The sun rises in the east and sets in the west’, the teacher said.

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The teacher said that the sun rose in the east and set in the west (non-standard).

The teacher said that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west (standard).

Concerning time clauses, the past tense remains the same in indirect speeches; it does not change to the past perfect:

‘When I bought this car, it was not expensive’, he said.

He said that when he had bought the car, it had not been expensive (non-standard).

He said that when he bought the car, it was not expensive (standard).

Next, when the word, ‘shall’, appears in the direct speech, it changes to ‘would’ (not, should) in the indirect speech:

‘I shall travel to London soon’, James said.

James said that he should travel to London soon (non-standard).

James said that he would travel to London soon (standard).

Another integral aspect of reporting is the changes in time and place when recasting direct speeches as indirect speeches. Put in perspective, ‘now’ and ‘here’, in direct speeches, become ‘then’ and ‘there’ respectively, in reported speeches:

‘I put the money here’, said Peter.

Peter said that he had put the money there (standard).

‘Tony will resolve the issue now’, said Jumoke.

Jumoke said that Tony would resolve the issue then (standard).

Again, ‘tomorrow’, ‘yesterday’, ‘last week’, ‘next year’, ‘this month’ and ‘three days ago’ should be rewritten as ‘the next day’, ‘the previous day’, ‘the previous week’, ‘the following year’, ‘that month’ and ‘three days before’ correspondingly, in reported speeches:

‘I shall execute the task tomorrow’, John said.

John said that he would execute the task the following day (standard).

‘Sarah came here two weeks ago’, said Tina.

Tina said that Sarah had come there two weeks before (standard).

Furthermore, when ‘should’ or ‘ought to’ represents ‘obligation’ or ‘assumption’, the modal verbs remain unchanged, as in:

‘I should confer with the minister at 6 p.m.’, Philip said.

Philip said that he should confer with the minister at 6 p.m. (standard).

By contrast, when ‘ought to’ or ‘should’ is used to express advice, instead of obligation, the verb, advise, replaces the modal verb, as instanced below:

‘You should not leave this door ajar before exiting the premises’, Gbenga said.

Gbenga advised me not to leave the door ajar before exiting the premises (standard).

The knowledge of reporting is crucial to official writing and effective communication. This, therefore, is a masterpiece for anyone who seeks proficiency in the English language.

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