Indirect speech

Indirect speech

Indirect speech is the one that does not convey what was said word for word, but only describes the content of what was said. It is expressed as additional subordinate clauses that do not take into account the author's style. 

Sentences with indirect speech are always complex. Their main part is the words of the author, and subordinate – indirect speech. There are no question and exclamation marks here, only text intonation, and there is no comma after the words of the author. 

Simply put, indirect speech is a retelling of other people's words with your own. That's all.


Direct and indirect speech 

First of all, direct and indirect speech differ in design. In direct speech, there are much more punctuation marks, the setting of which must be learned. 

Direct speech reflects what a person said directly, and indirect speech retells the meaning of his remark. 

Indirect speech is built according to the scheme 


Author's words – introductory word (not always in English) – indirect speech.

Directs speech 

Indirect speech  

  • «I am going to the university», she said. 
  • «We went shopping yesterday», replied his brother. 
  • She said that she was going to the university.  
  • His brother told that they had gone shopping the previous day.  


Modal verbs in indirect speech 

Modal verbs in indirect speech will also change, despite the fact that some of them do not have tense forms. 

Will – Would 

  • They said, “We will go to Europe next summer.” 
  • They said that they would go to Europe the following summer. 

Can – Could 

  • He said, “I can swim very well to be honest.” 
  • He said that he could swim very well to be honest. 

May – Might 

  • We said to them, “We may fly there too.” 
  • We said that we might fly there too. 

Shall – Should/Would 

1. Advice, suggestion

  • “Shall I order some pizza for dinner?”, she asked. 
  • She asked if she should order some pizza for dinner. 

2. Future tense

  • Somebody said, “She will be here at any minute.” 
  • Somebody said that she would be there at any minute. 

Modal verbs that are already in the past tense (could, would, might, had to) will not change. Also, must, ought to, needn't are added to those that remain unchanged. 


Sequence of Tenses 

Absolutely all sentences in English can be turned into indirect speech. However, you should look at the time of the action or conversation. This is where the timing rule comes into play. 

That is, if the main clause is in the past tense, then the subordinate clause must be in the past. 

Direct Speech Tense 

Indirect Speech Tense 

Present Simple – Past Simple 

I said, “I go home.” 

I said that I went home.  

Present Continuous – Past Continuous 

I said, “I am going home now.”  

I said that I was going home at that time. 

Present Perfect – Past Perfect 

I said, “She has gone home.” 

I said that she had gone home.  

Present Perfect Continuous – Past Perfect Continuous 

I said, “I have been going home.” 

I said that I had been going home. 

Past Simple – Past Perfect 

I said, “I went home.” 

I said that I had gone home.  

Past Continuous – Past Perfect Continuous 

I said, “I was going home.”  

I said that I had been going home. 

Will – Would 

I said, “I will go home.”  

She said, “I will be going home.” 

I said that I would go home. 

She said that she would be going home. 


All forms of the future tense will pass into the times of Future in the Past, the structure of which can be quite difficult to remember. That is why it is worth remembering a little life hack: just change will to would, and leave everything else as it was in direct speech. This will reduce the amount of time spent, giving a perfect result at the end. 


There are also cases where timing is not required: 

1. In direct speech, the main sentence is in Present Simple, Present Perfect or Future Simple.

  • He says, “I wait for my friend here.” – He says that he waits for his friend there. 

2. If the subordinate clause is in Past Perfect in direct speech, then in indirect speech it will remain the same.

  • His mom said to him, “I had known about your bad grades before you decided to tell me about it.” 
  • His mom said to him that she had known about his bad grades before he decided to tell her about it. 

3. If the main sentence is in Past Perfect Continuous, then in indirect speech the tense of the verb does not change.

  • My friend said, “I had been waiting for a week before I had given your gift to you.” 
  • My friend said that he had been waiting for a week before he had given my present to me. 

4. In colloquial speech, if Past Simple is used in the main sentence, then in indirect in some cases it will not change.

  • She said, “We went to the shopping mall with my friends.” 
  • She said that she went to the shopping mall with her friends. 

5. If the subordinate clause is in Past Continuous, then in colloquial indirect speech the verb may not change.

  • They said, “We were drinking tea when he came in.” 
  • They said that they were drinking tea when they came in. 


Pronouns and time indicators in indirect speech 

Personal and possessive pronouns

I – he/she 

me – him/her 

my – his/her 

mine – his/hers 

you – I/we 

your – my/our 

yours – mine/ours 

we – they 

us – them 

our – their 

ours – theirs 

  • She said, “My sister will visit me soon.” 
  • She said that her sister would visit her soon. 


Demonstrative pronouns, adverbs of time and place 

this – that 

these – those 

here – there 

now – then 

ago – before 

today – that day 

yesterday – the day before yesterday 

tomorrow – the next day 

the day before yesterday – two days before 

the day after tomorrow – in two days 

this week – that week 

next week – the week after 

  • They said, “We came home three days ago.” 
  • They said that they had come home three days before.