Direct and Indirect speech in English. Verbs Say and Tell

‘We are going to learn Reported speech’, the teacher told us.
The teacher told us (that) we were going to learn Reported speech.

Indirect speech helps to convey someone’s words, ideas, messages with our own. When changing direct speech into indirect speech in English, we have to follow some rules in order  to sound intelligently and naturally. So, let’s have a look at these subtleties.

1. The verbs Say and Tell are the most used, both in direct and in indirect speech. It is important to remember that the verb Tell requires an object (someone to whom the speech is directed):

She told me, ‘I am late’
She told me (that) she was late.


  • The verb Say does not require an object after itself, that is, we do not address our words to someone specific:

She said, ‘I am cold’
She said (that) she was cold.


  • However, we can address the message to someone using Say, but in this case the particle to will follow it:

She said to me, ‘I am cold’
She said to me (that) she was cold.


There are stable expressions with the verbs Say and Tell . Let's consider some of them:
Say     good morning / good night / good evening etc., something / nothing etc., so, a few words, a prayer etc.
Tell     a lie, a secret, the truth, a joke, a story, the time, the difference, one from another, one’s fortune, etc.

2. When creating indirect speech, the grammatical tenses of verbs and time indicators change if:

  • The predicate (verb say, tell or any other that we use to convey someone’s words) of the main sentence is in the past tense:

‘We are buying a new house’, she said.
She said (that) they were buying a new house.


  • If we do not believe what someone tells us:

‘Frank and I get on really well!’, She said.
She told me that she and Frank got on well, but I’ve seen them arguing a lot.

3. However, when transferred to indirect speech, the grammatical tense of verbs does NOT change if the predicate of the main sentence is in the present tense:

‘I love animals’, he says.
He says (that) he loves animals.

And here is how exactly changes in grammatical tenses occur in indirect speech:


Direct Speech


Reported Speech


Present Simple

‘I want a new phone’, Sam said.

Past Simple

Sam said (that) he wanted a new phone.

Present Continuous

‘They are working’, she said.

Past Continuous

She said they were working.

Present Perfect

‘I have just seen the news’, she said.

Past Perfect

She said she had just seen the news.

Past Simple

‘I came to work late’, Anna said.

Past Perfect OR Past Simple

Anna said she had come (came) to work late.

Past Continuous

‘I was sleeping all morning’, Lucy said.

Past Perfect Continuous OR Past Continuous

Lucy said she had been sleeping (was sleeping) all morning,

Future (will)

‘I will do it later’, he said

Conditional (would)

He said he would do it later.

Past Perfect AND Past Perfect Continuous

‘I had been there before you even told me’, she said.


She said she had been there before I even told her.


As we’ve mentioned earlier, time-markers also change::



than, at that time, immediately

today, tonight

that day, that night


the day before, the previous day


the next day, the following day

this week

that week

last week

the week before, the previous week

next week

the week after, the following week

two days ago

two days before






it / they / them 

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