Reported Speech and Reporting Verbs

There are many times when you want to repeat something you have been told, heard or read, and quote the source of the information. To do this you use reported speech and use reporting verbs. Here we are going to revise how you can do this.


Using Reported speech

When reporting speech, the tense usually changes. This is because when we use reported speech, we are usually talking about a time in the past (because the person who spoke, did so in the past, and we are talking about it at a later time). The verbs therefore usually have to be in the past too.

Let’s first revise the changes you need to make to transform direct speech into indirect speech.


Tense change

As a rule when you report something that someone has said you ‘go back’ a tense.


Place and time expressions

For place and time expressions you have to check whether place and time are the same in direct and reported speech or not.


Pronouns and possessive adjectives

Pronouns (I, me) and possessive adjectives (my, your) often change in reported speech. For example ‘I’ and ‘my’ in direct speech becomes ‘he /she’ and ‘his /hers / the’ in indirect speech

“The laws affecting your rights working here are changing tomorrow”

He told us that the laws affecting our rights working there were changing the next day.


Reporting Verbs

Say and tell

When we are quoting direct speech, say is the more commonly used verb as say refers to any kind of speech.Tell is used only with the meaning of instruct or inform.

She said that she gets really stressed when trying to work out who to report to.

When we use told we normally say who is being spoken to, so we have to use it with a direct personal object.

John said that he didn’t agree that he should tell the line manager first.

John told us he didn’t agree that he should tell the line manager first.

So the form for using told is:

Told (or alternative verb) + object + infinitive

We can also use the object + infinitive pattern with told (and other verbs of command or orders).

She told him not to test her patience.

We can also use told with the object + gerund

I told her that she was making a mistake.

So when we use say, we don’t normally indicate who is spoken to. If we do, we must put to before the object.

told + object + about

If we are reporting the topic and not what was actually said, we use told (or a told verb) + object + about:

They told me all about their plans.

I told them about the changes in the law.

This form cannot be used with said.

We do not use say or tell to report questions. Instead we must use ask with ‘if’ or ‘whether’ to report yes/no questions and with the question word for all other types of questions.


Choosing another reporting verb?

The words ‘say’ and ‘tell’ are often overused in English and can be replaced with more precise alternatives in order to improve the style of your language. Were they confirming, criticising, defending an idea, etc?

He said that the results weren’t accurate.

He argued that the results weren’t accurate.


He said that the team had done their best.

He confirmed that the team had done their best.


There are a number of other reporting verbs that can be used instead of say or tell to make more accurate and shorter statements and questions.

Remember that reporting verbs are categorized into 3 main groups to convey the meaning or mood of what the author wants to express

1) Neutral verbs are used to say what the ‘author’ describes in factual terms, demonstrates, refers to, and discusses. These include; show – demonstrate – mention – observe

2) Tentative verbs are used to say what the author suggests or speculates on (without being absolutely certain or without expressing his opinion in a strong way). These include: suggest -imply  – recommend – propose

3) Strong verbs are used to show that the author makes strong arguments and claims or strong opinions or beliefs. These include assert – claim – challenge – reject


Using other reporting verbs

Reporting verbs follow the same patterns as ‘say’ and ‘tell’ and it is important to understand how to use them correctly.
The structure of sentences when using reporting verbs can vary, and can be flexible and take three main forms.

Form 1

reporting verb + that + subject + verb

It was acknowledged that members of the committee had exceeded their remit.

Reporting verbs which are used in this form include:




Form 2

reporting verb + somebody/something + for + noun/gerund

He thanked them all for coming.

Reporting verbs used in this form are:

faultpraiseridiculesingle outthank


Form 3

reporting verb + somebody/something + as + noun/gerund/adjective

He viewed this as being a waste of time.

Reporting verbs used in this form include:

viewinterpretcharacterizerefer toclassify