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Reported Speech
A Common Sense Approach
by Kendall Peet
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  • Part One: A brief analysis of reported speech
  • Part Two: Problems learners face at different levels
  • Part Three: Approaches, methods, and materials

Part One: A Brief Analysis of Reported Speech

Reported speech, traditionally called indirect speech, but also referred to by linguists and grammarians as hypotactic locutions(1), refers to the use of a noun clause(2) to report a person’s words, thoughts, beliefs, etc.(3) To better understand reported speech, it is helpful to first look at direct speech, which can also be used to report a person’s words, thoughts, and beliefs.

Direct Speech

Direct speech is used mainly in writing to report a person’s words exactly. It is found in conversations in books, in plays, and in quotations, and is often used in situations where accuracy is important, such as in areas relating to law and public media. The following examples highlight the form of direct speech.

She said , I’ll call you as soon as I’ve finished up here.

I’ll call you as soon as I’ve finished up here, she said.

The distinguishing features are the use of quotation marks to tell the reader that the words are the original words spoken by the speaker, and the reference to the speaker, which can be made before or after the quote, with the comma placed accordingly.

Reported Speech

In contrast to direct speech, reported speech is used mainly in conversation and is concerned more with communicating the exact meaning than the exact words. (4) As such, the reported message may vary depending on the point of view of the speaker and the vocabulary selected (5):

She said/told him she would phone/call/ring him when/as soon as she (was) finished (at) work.

Shifting from Direct to Reported Speech

When shifting from direct to reported speech, Swan writes that grammatical changes may need to be made to the original text in order to account for the fact that “words spoken or thought in one place by one person [are or] may be reported in another place at a different time, and perhaps by a different person.” (6) The changes that Swan refers to include:

1. Pronouns and Possessive Determiners

In reported speech pronouns and possessive determiners may need to be changed when the speaker or listener change. For example:

David : Where’s Peter? Is Peter here ? Have you seen him?

John : No, not today.

David: Do you know if he ’s finished his report yet? I need it.

John : No, I don’t know. Sorry.

David : He promised me it would be finished today.

John to Peter (the next day at lunch): David asked where you were yesterday. He said he needed

your report and wanted to know if I had seen you. I said I hadn’t. He seemed pretty angry.

In this situation the speaker and listener have changed so the pronouns and possessive pronouns must change accordingly, as is indicated above.

1. Downing, a. & Locke, L. (1992). P. 300
2. Azar, B. (1989). P. 275
3. Swan, M. (1980). P.500
4. Thomson, A.J. & Martinet, A.v. (1960. p.269
5. Eastwood, J. (1994). P. 347
6. Swan, M. (1980). p. 501

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