BLACK MARKET ENGLISH BLOG

Reported Speech: the Ultimate Gossip Guide for the Modern Professional

In this guide, you’ll learn the grammar constructions for the top 4 most common reporting verbs and how to transform direct speech into reported speech in all verb tenses, including with modal forms.
Your boss told you to tell your client in the UK about an important deadline. How do you tell them (correctly)? Your colleague said something disastrous at your last meeting. How to you complain about it to your boss in the US? We use reported speech to tell others what someone said in the past. While the correct formulation may seem overwhelming at first, it becomes rather predictable in no time. Perhaps the trickiest aspects of reporting grammar are 1) associated grammar with certain verbs and 2) verb tense transformation.

In this guide, I’ll lay out the grammar constructions for the top 4 most common reporting verbs, as well as a comprehensive guide on how to transform verb tenses. I’ve tried to keep this as concise as relevant as possible, but I cannot promise that this grammar won’t put you to sleep. Let’s get started!
1. REPORTING VERBS

The most common reporting verbs are ‘say’, ‘speak’, ‘tell’, and ‘ask’. Interestingly, they also cause the most grammatical confusion. Study these tables and never mix up your constructions again!

Say/said

  1. Use it to discuss THINGS.
Speak/spoke
Use it to discuss PEOPLE AND THINGS with others.
Tell/told
Use it to RELAY INFORMATION to others.
Ask/asked
Use it to ask QUESTIONS.
If you tire of using the same old reporting verbs, try some of these more expressive options:

To assert
To demand
To indicate
To report
To relay
To inform
To share
To chime in
To propose
To recommend
To advise
To suggest

2. TENSE TRANSFORMATION

The basic rule: transform the direct speech verb tense to the earlier past tense form in reported speech. In reported questions, always add ‘if’ after the reporting verb.

Present tenses

Note that in continuous tense transformation, we only transform the ‘be’ verb
Past tenses

We do not transform past perfect because it’s already in the earliest past form.
Future tenses
MODAL VERBS

Most modal verbs don’t transform because, in theory, they’re already in the ‘past form’. Though two do transform – ‘can’ and ‘have to’. Also note after modal verbs, we always use the infinitive without ‘to’. And don’t forget to transform the ‘be’ verb to its past form in present tenses.
Now you’ve got the know-how to be a master of international information exchange (or just really good at office gossip). Wasn’t that exciting and not tedious at all? Well, I hope in any case, you’ll see the value in this guide and come back to it for reference as needed. In the meantime, if you have additional questions or need assistance, please get in touch!
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