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8.04 Indirect (reported) speech

Another way of reproducing someone else’s words without repeating them exactly is through indirect or reported speech. By adding a reporting verb (said, stated, exclaimed, declared, etc.) and shifting tenses as required, you can integrate the original speaker’s statement grammatically into the new sentence. Adverbs and adjectives expressing nearness in place or time (here, this, now, next, etc.) become the corresponding adverbs or adjectives of remoteness (there, that, then, the following, etc.) in indirect speech. Examples are given at the end of this section following the heading Direct speech / Indirect speech.

In indirect speech, the first example in 8.02 Run-in format would be restructured to read as follows:

  • The Minister said that prospects for growth were not good.

The verb in the subordinate clause shifts from the present tense of direct speech (are) to the past tense (were) in keeping with the rules of tense sequence. Likewise, a verb that was in the future tense in direct speech often takes the conditional form in indirect speech. Thus if the Minister’s words had been

  • "There will be no growth for some time."

the indirect form would be

  • The Minister said that there would be no growth for some time.

However, the present and future tenses are retained and demonstratives are not modified if the actions or situations referred to are still current or future at the time of quotation:

  • Direct quotation

    "There will be no growth this year."

  • Indirect speech (statement reported in the same year)

    The Minister said that there will be no growth this year.

  • Indirect speech (statement reported in a subsequent year)

    The Minister said that there would be no growth in that year.

Alternatively, a blend of direct and indirect speech may be preferred when a particular part of the original statement is to be highlighted:

  • The Minister said that prospects for growth were not good and that "governments [were] becoming increasingly worried about large spending deficits."

Because the first subordinate clause verb (were) is in the past tense, the tense of the verb within the quotation must be altered. This time, because direct speech is being retained and the speaker did not actually use the past tense, the editorial change has to be indicated by means of square brackets (see also 8.10 Insertions, alterations and parentheses on altering quotations).

The table below shows the corresponding tense and other changes when direct speech is converted to indirect speech:

Direct speech Indirect speech
Simple present
"I hate this film," she said.
Simple past
She said that she hated that film.
Present progressive
"I’m watching the fireworks," he said.
Past progressive
He said that he was watching the fireworks.
Present perfect
"I’ve found a new job," she said
Past perfect
She said that she had found a new job.
Present perfect progressive
He said, "I’ve been running around all day."
Past perfect progressive
He said that he had been running around all day.
Simple past
"I saw Maria in Saskatoon last Saturday," he said.
Past perfect
He said that he had seen Maria in Saskatoon the previous Saturday.
She said, "I’ll be in Nova Scotia by Friday."
She said that she would be in Nova Scotia by Friday.
Future progressive
"I’ll be needing the car on the fifteenth," Paul said.
Conditional progressive
Paul said that he would be needing the car on the fifteenth.
"I would really like to go," he said.
Conditional (no tense change)
He said that he would really like to go.