Direct speech and Indirect speech with time expressions

by John November 17, 2020

In English it is common to communicate what people tell you.

We often tell other people things we heard somebody else say, provided it is not a secret, although sometimes we end up ‘spilling the beans’ by mistake.
In this blog post, I will teach you how to report what other people say.

Of course we do this everyday, from telling our friends what the weather forecaster said to simply passing on news about what our friend told us.

There are two ways we can do this, they are called: Direct speech and Indirect speech.

Direct Speech

We will start with Direct speech.

We use direct speech to give the direct words of the speaker, in other words we repeat the exact thing the speaker told us word for word.

For example if you are having a conversation with your friend, and they say “I am going to New York tomorrow”, then later you are speaking with another friend, you could say:
Peter said: “I am going to London tomorrow”.
However, this is not so common, it sounds a little strange right? Unless, of course you are imitating the person.

If, on the other hand you were writing a book you would use this form a lot.

For example:
“I can’t find my prince!” said the princess.
Direct speech is more common to find in books and writing like newspapers for instance.

It is formed by using words like told or said although there are many other words we can use.

The structure would be similar to this:

He/She + said + “I am hungry”

You can see that we put the words that someone said within quotation marks or inverted commas.

Direct speech

We use direct speech to give the exact words of the speaker

For example: He said “I love you!”

Indirect speech

We use indirect speech when we want to report what the speaker said.

So, if someone tells us something we report what they said but instead of giving the exact words the person told us we give them the information in a different way to what the speaker said originally.

If a person says “I am starting a new job” and we want to tell someone else what they said, we use indirect speech:

He said that he was starting a new job.

This is much more natural to say than using direct speech so we almost always use it for telling someone what someone else said.

The structure is simple:

He/She + said + that + he was starting a new job.

Notice that we move the verb into the past:

Direct speech: He said “I am starting a new job.

Indirect speech: He said that he was starting a new job

In this case we moved the verb from present continuous into the past continuous but you just move it one step into the past. If you have present simple, it goes to past simple and so on.

Indirect speech

We use indirect speech to report what the speaker said

For example: He said that he loved me!

Indirect speech tenses and time expressions

We’ve another blog post on direct and indirect speech here if you want to explore this grammar point further, but here we are now going to look at how we use time expressions with indirect speech.

Note the following verb tenses and how they change when we move from direct speech to indirect speech:

Present simple => past simple

Present continuous => past continuous

Present perfect => past perfect

Past simple => past perfect

Past continuous => past perfect continuous

There are also some other changes to words.

When we have the future simple we change ‘will’ to ‘would’.

For example: He said “I will go to school tomorrow” becomes: He said that he would go to school the next day.

You might have noticed, we also changed the subject because we are referring to the speaker and not ourselves.

In addition to tenses we also need to think about time expressions.

Think about this sentence:

He said “I will have my hair cut tomorrow

In indirect speech this becomes:

He said that he would have his hair cut the next day.

In this sentence, the word ‘tomorrow‘ changed to ‘the next day’.

Depending on when we are speaking, some words about time may need to change.
Below is a list of which words to change from direct speech to indirect speech when talking about time in.

Today => That day

Tomorrow => The next/following day

Yesterday => the previous day

Next week/month/year => The following week/month/year

Last week/month/year => The week/month/year before or The previous week/month/year

Now => Then

Tonight => That night

Last night => The night before

Test yourself and see how many you can get correct!

Direct and Indirect speech with time expressions

Test Yourself


Indirect speech and time expressions

1 / 6

When we change a sentence from direct speech to indirect speech we move the verb into the ________.

2 / 6

He said: "I am going to go to London tomorrow."

3 / 6

She said "I did the FCE exam last year"

4 / 6

We use indirect speech to give the exact words of what the speaker said.

5 / 6

Will changes to was in indirect speech.

6 / 6

In the sentence: She said "I won't go to the supermarket today." what does I change to in indirect speech

Your score is

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Weather forecaster: A man/woman who uses weather instruments to predict weather conditions

Weather forecast: A prediction of weather conditions that gives us information about winds, temperatures etc.

Imitate: Copy someone’s actions or what they say

For instance: For example

Quotation marks: Inverted commas ” “

Phrasal Verbs

To pass on(information): To tell somebody some information
Example: “Could you please pass on a message to the Teacher. Tell her I can’t come to class today.


Word for word: To say something exactly as someone said or wrote it
Example: I learnt the poem word for word

If you enjoyed this blog, please check out some more of our English grammar tips elsewhere on our site and if you’d like information on our English courses in Dublin, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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