When you want to tell someone what another person told you, you can use reported speech. Here’s an example:
In the morning, you have this conversation with your friend Jack:
- Michael: Hi Jack. What’s new?
- Jack: I started a new job last week.
- Michael: Really? How’ it going?
- Jack: Oh, it’s pretty busy.
Later that day, you have this conversation with your friend Jane:
- Michael: I talked to Jack this morning.
- Jane: How’s everything going with his new job?
- Michael: He said it was pretty busy.
A lot of students have a hard time with using reported speech. Today, I will show you how to use this English grammar:
We usually change the verb in the time clause to the past form:
- “Oh, it’s pretty busy.” → He said it was pretty busy.
- “I drink coffee every morning.” → He said he drank coffee every morning.
- “I saw Jane this morning.” → He said he had seen Jane this morning.
This is the usual grammar, and I recommend you use the above grammar, especially if you have an English test in school. However, there are a few exceptions:
Exception #1: We don’t change the verb in the time clause when we report something that was just said. Imagine you are in a meeting, and the boss is talking. You may have a conversation like this with your coworker:
- Joe: What did the boss say about the next meeting? I couldn’t catch it.
- Michael: He said he wants us to meet next Tuesday.
Exception #2: We don’t change the verb in the time clause when we report something that is a general or usual truth. Here is a conversation from a cooking class:
- Jack: What did the teacher say about fresh cream? I couldn’t catch it.
- Michael: She said it is usually fresh for just one week.
Exception #3: We usually don’t change the verb in the time clause when we report something that we believe is still true about someone’s feelings or a situation. There are a lot of examples of sentences like this from pop songs:
- “She says it’s cold outside…” – Matchbox Twenty, 3AM
- “She says she love you…” – The Beatles, She Loves You
- “He says I am beautiful…” – Candice Glover, I Am Beautiful
Even though there are these three exceptions, most English teachers follow the basic rule that says to change the verb in the time clause to the past. I’ve checked a few text and reference books and all of them say that we “usually” change the verb. This is a case where there is no clear cut answer, so just try to remember the basic rule and the three exceptions. If you have any additional ideas about using reported speech, why not leave a comment?
If you know anyone who has trouble with this English language point, why not help them out! Just share this lesson with them.
Thanks for studying today!
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