time tense changes in reported speech

Direct and Indirect Speech: 4 Rules for Tense Changes in Reported Speech

If you need English for your daily life, and you are often using English at work, in school, or with friends, then you need to know about direct and indirect speech in English. Indirect speech is also known as reported speech and is something that I have been asked about recently by students on Instagram. Time tense changed in reported speech is one of the most confusing topics, so we’re going to cover some of the basic today.

This lesson is a review of the Everyday English live lesson from this morning on YouTube.

Remember you can join me every Tuesday at 8:30am PST, subscribe to YouTube here.

I recommend taking the time to watch this live lesson replay, as it goes over some of the rules and has some practice exercises to review. The practice exercises will help your listening comprehension skills and check your understanding of the grammar being reviewed.  Below the video, you’ll find the lesson notes.

In today’s Everyday English lesson, you are going to learn:

  • 4 situations you do not need to change the tenses in indirect/reported speech
  • Review of common changes when necessary

Let’s go!

4 Rules for Tense Changes in Reported Speech

As we reviewed in the video, there are 4 situations where you do not need to change the time tenses in indirect/reported speech. In one of those situations, you should absolutely not change the time tenses.

You do not need to change the time tenses in the following situations

  1. when something was just said (around the same moment as repeating the information)
  2. for scientific facts and general truths
  3. for information that is still true

1.  Imagine you are with a group of friends talking about something (in English, of course!). One of your friends says, “I am so thirsty!” and she gets up to go get water. Another friend didn’t hear her and wants to know where she is going. So, he asks, “What did she say?”. Because you are repeating information in the same (or almost exact) moment that the original statement was said, it is not necessary to change anything.

So you could reply:

She said that she is so thirsty.

2. Scientific facts and general truths never change, so the time tenses they are talked about in can stay the same. For example, if Oliver tells you, “I am left-handed. I write with my left hand.” This is a fact, something that is true.

So if you tell someone this information later, you can say:

Oliver told me that he is left-handed. He writes with his left hand.

3. When information is still true, the time tenses do not need to change. This may be because it was just said, it’s a fact, or something that simply hasn’t changed. Let’s imagine this situation. You and your family are sitting at the dinner table and your sister says, “I don’t like being single. I want a spouse.” This information will probably stay true until she gets married.

So if you’re telling your friend what she said, you can say:

My sister said she doesn’t like being single. She wants a spouse.

***IMPORTANT NOTE:

In the 3 situations stated above, you can change the time tenses if you want; however, it is not necessary. You do need to change the pronouns to keep the meaning.

However, there is 1 situation that you absolutely do not change the time tenses in reported speech.

You never change the time tenses in reported speech when the reporting verb (say, tell) is in the simple present tense.

This commonly happens in news reports or when reporting information that is often said or repeated.  Review these direct and indirect situations:

Oliver says, “I am the cutest baby ever!”

Oliver says that he is the cutest baby ever.

Many people say, “I am so open-minded!”

Many people say they are so open-minded (*Note: the pronouns change to keep the same meaning*)

The news reports state,”The city has problems.”

The news reports state that the city has problems.


Although we have reviewed when time tense changes are not necessary, sometimes you do need to change the sentence when writing (or saying it) in indirect speech. We will review these changes in a future lesson; however, some common time tense changes in reported speech are:

simple present → simple past

present progressive → past progressive

simple past → past perfect

present perfect → past perfect

Modals, time words, and other adverbs need to change as well.

Check back next week for more details about the reported speech!

Practice Makes Perfect

Your job this week is to make time to watch the live lesson replay video and practice the exercises you hear. Make some extra time to review this information.

Happy Studying! ♥

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