what is the rules for reported speech?


Let us understand the concept of reported speech clearer here:

We may report the words of a speaker in two ways- We can either quote his actual words which would then be called direct speech.

For instance,

  • Ethan said, “I am very busy right now.”

  • Farhan asked, “Why didn't you come?”

    We may also report what he said without quoting his exact words.

    For instance,

  • Ethan said that he was very busy then;

  • Farhan asked why I didn't go.

While changing the voice, few rules need to be taken into consideration such as:

  • A simple present becomes a simple past;

  • A present continuous becomes a past continuous;

  • A present perfect becomes a past perfect

For instance,

  • She said, “I don't want to go.” becomes She said that she didn't want to go.

  • She said, “I am not going.” becomes She said that she wasn't going.

  • She said, “I didn't go.” becomes She said that she hadn't gone.

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Reported speech rules


If we want to say what other people said, thought or felt, we can use the direct and indirect speech (reported speech).

The direct speech"I like it," he said. "Irene is late," he thought. "I will pass the exam," she hoped.
The reported speechHe said he liked it. He thought that Irene was late. She hoped she would pass the exam.
The reported speech is typically introduced by verbs such as say, tell, admit, complain, explain, remind, reply, think, hope, offer, refuse etc. in the past tense. 
He said (that) he didn't want it.
She explained that she had been at the seaside.
If these verbs are in the past tense, we change the following:
a) verb tenses and verb forms,
b) pronouns,
c) the adverbs of time and place.
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A) Verb tenses

We change the tenses in the following way:
1. Present - past
"I never understand you," she told me. - She told me she never understood me. 
"We are doing exercises," he explained. - He explained that they were doing exercises.
2. Present perfect - past perfect
"I have broken the window," he admitted. - He admitted that he had broken the window.
"I have been waiting since the morning," he complained. - He complained that he had been waiting since the morning.
3. Past - past perfect
"She went to Rome," I thought. - I thought that she had gone to Rome.
"He was thinking of buying a new car," she said. - She said he had been thinking of buying a new car.
4. Will - conditional
Will changes into the conditional.
"I will come on Sunday," he reminded me. - He reminded me that he would come on Sunday.
I shall, we shall usually become would.
"I shall appreciate it," he said. - He said he would appreciate it.
I should, we should usually changes into would.
"We should be really glad," she told us. - She told us they would be really glad.
May becomes might.
"I may write to him," she promised. - She promised that she might write to him.
The verb forms remain the same the following cases.
1. If the reporting verb is in the present tense.
Bill: "I am enjoying my holiday." - Bill says he is enjoying his holiday.
Sandy: "I will never go to work." - Sandy says she will never go to work.
2. When we report something that is still true.
Dan: "Asia is the largest continent." - Dan said Asia is the largest continent.
Emma: "People in Africa are starving." - Emma said people in Africa are starving.
3. When a sentence is made and reported at the same time and the fact is still true.
Michael: "I am thirsty." - Michael said he is thirsty.
4. With modal verbs would, might, could, should, ought to, used to.
George: "I would try it." - George said he would try it.
Mimi: "I might come." - Mimi said she might come.
Steve: "I could fail." - Steve said he could fail.
Linda: "He should/ought to stay in bed." - Linda said he should/ought to stay in bed.
Mel: "I used to have a car." - Mel said he used to have a car.
5. After wish, would rather, had better, it is time.
Margo: "I wish they were in Greece." - Margo said she wished they were in Greece.
Matt: "I would rather fly." - Matt said he would rather fly.
Betty: "They had better go." - Betty said they had better go.
Paul: "It is time I got up." - Paul said it was time he got up.
6. In if-clauses.
Martha: "If I tidied my room, my dad would be happy." - Martha said that if she tidied her room, her dad would be happy.
7. In time-clauses.
Joe: "When I was staying in Madrid I met my best friend." - He said that when he was staying in Madrid he met his best friend.
8. We do not change the past tense in spoken English if it is clear from the situation when the action happened.
"She did it on Sunday," I said. - I said she did it on Sunday.
We must change it, however, in the following sentence, otherwise it will not be clear whether we are talking about the present or past feelings.
"I hated her," he said. - He said he had hated her.
9. We do not usually change the modal verbs must and needn't. But must can become had to or wouldhave to and needn't can become didn't have to or wouldn't have to if we want to express an obligation.
Would/wouldn't have to are used to talk about future obligations.
"I must wash up." - He said he must wash up/he had to wash up.
"I needn't be at school today."  - He said he needn't be/didn't have to be at school that day.
"We must do it in June." - He said they would have to do it in June.
If the modal verb must does not express obligation, we do not change it.
"We must relax for a while." (suggestion) - He said they must relax for a while.
"You must be tired after such a trip." (certainty) - He said we must be tired after such a trip.


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 B) Pronouns

 We have to change the pronouns to keep the same meaning of a sentence.
"We are the best students," he said. - He said they were the best students.
"They called us," he said. - He said they had called them.
"I like your jeans," she said. - She said she liked my jeans.
"I can lend you my car," he said. - He said he could lend me his car.
Sometimes we have to use a noun instead of a pronoun, otherwise the new sentence is confusing.
"He killed them," Kevin said. - Kevin said that the man had killed them.
If we only make mechanical changes (Kevin said he had killed them), the new sentence can have a different meaning - Kevin himself killed them.
This and these are usually substituted.
"They will finish it this year," he said. - He said they would finish it that year.
"I brought you this book," she said. - She said she had brought me the book.
"We want these flowers," they said. - They said they wanted the flowers. 
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