Reported Speech & Reporting Verbs
Hi! This is your journalist friend, John!
Yesterday, I told you about the first time I saw Susan. She didn’t see me, and I didn’t speak to her. But the next day . . .
The next day, she came to the office late. She looked tired. She sat on her swivel chair and started turning round on it. That was so childlike and fun! But then, the chair fell and she fell with it! Oh no!
For a second, I didn’t know what to do. I panicked. Then I ran to her and helped her get up.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yes, I think so . . . ” she replied.
“I’ll call an ambulance,” I offered.
“Don’t,” she replied. “But I could use something to eat. I’m starving!”
So, that was the first minute we spent together. I asked if she was okay. She said she thought she was. Then I offered to call an ambulance, but she refused. Instead, she suggested eating something together.
I will remember that minute for the rest of my life!
When we have a conversation and we want to tell someone else about it later, we often use the backshift of tenses. This means that all the verbs are put one step “back”—Present Simple becomes Past Simple, Past Continuous becomes Past Perfect Continuous, etc.
Examples from our story:
“Are you okay?” → I asked if she was okay.
“I think I am.” → She said she thought she was.
“I am learning Spanish.” → She said she was learning Spanish.
“I have just finished.” → He said he had just finished.
“When are you leaving?” → She asked when I was leaving.
“Have you eaten?” → She asked if I had eaten.
When we say “he said” all the time, this can become boring. So, we often use other verbs instead of “said.” After these verbs, the tenses don’t go back, but they have many different forms depending on the verb before them.
Examples from our story:
“I’ll call an ambulance.” → I offered to call an ambulance.
“Don’t call an ambulance!” → She refused to let me call an ambulance.
“Let’s eat something together.” → She suggested eating something together.
“Don’t move or I’ll shoot.” → He threatened to shoot us if we moved.
“Don’t touch the kettle, it’s hot!” → She warned me not to touch the kettle.
“I’ll do that.” → He promised to do that.
“I am the best.” → He boasted that he was the best.
“I don’t want you to go.” → She objected to my going.
“It’s cheaper if you buy it here.” → She advised me to buy it there.
“Why don’t you come to my party?” → He invited me to the party.
Tomorrow, you’ll find out what happened when John and Susan went to eat together!
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