Direct and indirect speeches are two ways used in reporting what someone has said. They are mostly used in spoken English. It is important to learn how the transformation goes so as to be accurate in your interactions with the others. The makeover of a direct utterance to indirect speech has to abide to some rules that we should talk about in this paper.
First I'd like to draw your attention that once the reporting verb (e.g. SAY, TELL) is in the present simple [She says] or the present perfect [He has told us] or the future simple tense [They will tell you], there's no change of tense at all.
She says, "John prefers tea"
She has told us that John prefers tea.
Yet, once the reporting verb is in the past (e.g. SAID, TOLD, REPORTED? etc), many changes occur depending of course on the tense used in the moment of speaking.
In direct speech the reporter repeats the original words of the speaker:
Leila said, "The cat has broken the vase."
In the indirect (reported) speech the reporter gives the exact meaning of the speaker's utterance without necessarily repeating the exact words of the speaker:
Leila said (that) the cat had broken the vase.
In indirect (reported) speech the tenses have to be changed in a way that the reporter (you) goes a step back in the time line with each tense. For instance, if the tense in the time of speaking (direct speech) is the present, it becomes past in the reported speech. If it is in the past, it is reported in the past perfect, if it is in the future, it is reported in the conditional and so on. Study this,
am / is / are doing
was / were doing
have / has done
had to do
didn't have to do
should have done *
would have done *
could have done *
N.B.: These tense changes are automatic only after past tense reporting verbs (said, told, informed, explained, etc).
Most Grammar books prefer not to change "would", "could", "should" & "might".
- He said, "I could solve the problem"
- He said that he could have solved the problem" *
With the use of "could have solved the problem" we surely create some misunderstanding. Look at this example for better understanding.
- He said, "I would help him if I could"
- He said that he would help him if he could.
Here it would be quite incomprehensible if we changed the modal verbs. We NORMALLY keep them as they are for fear the sentence in the reported speech should create confusion.
That's why some grammarians avoid changing "could do", for instance, into "could have done".
NOW have a look at this sentence and try to put it into the reported speech
- He said, "If I had a lot of money, I would buy the most expensive car ever"
- He said (that)
Pay attention because you are going to report this as well:
- He said, "I had breakfast late this morning"
- He said (that)
Some other expressions (signifiers) such as the adverbs of time and place also change
now / at the moment
then / at once
the day before (or) the previous day
the day before yesterday
two days before
last week/month/year/Monday etc.
the previous week/month/year/Monday etc.
the day after (or) the following day
the day after tomorrow
in two days time
next week/month/year/February/Sunday etc.
The following week/month/year/February/Sunday etc.
three years ago
three years before
today / tonight
that day / that night
N.B.: These equivalents are not to be taken for rules.
With Test Papers:
During the exam, the students' main purpose is not the level of their fluency in English but the ability to get good grades. Therefore, they are mostly interested in how to get the correct answers. Their first concern is to get them the simplest and easiest way. So, here are some helpful tricks which, once grasped, pave the way for the students to achieve their goal.
The tenses with auxiliaries (am/is/are/was/were/have/has/have been etc) in the direct speech are the easiest ones to report because the auxiliary is to be your key focus. You need only to deal with the auxiliary and forget about the main verb. That's why the "continuous" and "perfect" tenses are the easiest to do. Look at these examples:
- John said, "I amgoing to look for a larger flat"
- John said that he wasgoing to look for a larger flat.
- Sue said, "I havedone my homework."
- Sue said that she haddone her homework.
This is also true with modal verbs (will, can, must, may, etc). Our emphasis should go to them and keep the main verbs untouched.
- John said, "The pupils maygo home earlier this afternoon"
- John said that the pupils mightgo home earlier that afternoon.
- The teacher said, "The best students willbe rewarded."
- The teacher said that the best students wouldbe rewarded.
The first thing you have to care too much about here is your IRREGULAR VERBS. If you don't know the past participle of a given verb everything will collapse and all the rules you master are useless. So be careful, it is a matter of Right or Wrong. Also you have to deal with the pronouns and the signifiers carefully.
The Simple Past
Peter said, "Ilostmy keys in the train yesterday"
Peter said that hehad losthis keys in the train the day before.
Juliana said, "Iwas extremely nervous last week"
Juliana said that shehad been extremely nervous the previous week.
Hassan said, "Wewent to bed early last night"
Hassan said that theyhad gone to bed early the night before.
Vicky said, "Ididn't take a taxi home last night"
Vicky said that Shehadn't taken a taxi home the previous night.
Leila said, "I read this book a few years ago."
Leila said that she had read that book a few years before.
The Past Continuous
"was" and "were" become "had been".
Peter said, "Iwas having a shower."
Peter said that hehad been having a shower.
The boy said, "Wewere at home playing chess."
The boy said that theyhad been at home playing chess.
The Past Perfect
No change except for the pronouns.
Peter said, "The children had worked hard."
Peter said that The children had worked hard.
The boys said, "We had done our homework."
The boys said that they had done their homework.
What you have to retain about the use of the imperative in the direct speech is that it turns into the infinitive with "to" in the reported speech. If the speaker uses a negative imperative, the reporter should place "NOT" before the infinitive. The reporting verbs are generally, (ask, tell, order)
Sometimes the reporting becomes completely based on the introducing (reporting) verb. Here, the complication dwells in the fact that the content of the direct speech is either an advice, a confession, a comparison or else.