Change of tenses in reported speech

After present and future reporting verbs, the tenses in the reported speech are normally the same as in the original speech.

  • Direct speech: He says, ‘I don’t want to wait any longer.’
  • Indirect speech: He says that he doesn’t want to wait any longer.
  • Direct speech: The teacher says, ‘Work hard.’
  • Indirect speech: The teacher says that we must work hard.


The tenses may not change if the statement is still relevant or if it is a universal truth. We can often choose whether to keep the original tenses or change them.

  • Direct speech: ‘I know her,’ said James.
  • Indirect speech: James said that he knows her. OR James said that he knew her.
  • Direct speech: The teacher said, ‘Honesty is the best policy.’
  • Indirect speech: The teacher said that honesty is the best policy.

Modal verbs in indirect speech
The modals would, should, could, might, ought and must are usually unchanged in indirect speech.

  • Direct speech: He said, ‘I might be late.’
  • Indirect speech: He said that he might be late.
  • Direct speech: He said, ‘It would be nice if I could see you again.’
  • Indirect speech: He said that it would be nice if he could see me again.

Because of the change of person, shall often becomes should in indirect speech.

  • Direct speech: He said, ‘I shall wait.’
  • Indirect speech: He said that he would wait. (NOT He said that he should wait.)