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reporting questions, suggestions, advice and instructions

Ajaz Ali Khan from Pakistan writes:

Kindly tell me the rule for converting direct speech into indirect speech.


Roger Woodham replies:

requests/advice/instructions in reported speech

If you want to report requests, advice, promises or instructions, it can sometimes be done fairly simply by using this construction:

verb + pronoun + to + infinitive

In these examples, note the variety of reporting verbs we can use and the pronoun and tense changes that are also needed. Note also the conversion that is needed when we have a negative sentence:

  • Could you please show me where the shops are?
    ~ He asked me to show him where the shops were.
  • Can you lend me $50?
    ~Then he asked me to lend him $50.
  • Don’t come and visit me yet. I’m infectious!
    ~ She advised me not to come and visit her as she was still infectious.
  • Don’t go too near the edge of the cliffs. It’s too dangerous.
    ~ They warned us not to go too near the edge of the cliffs as it was too dangerous.
  • Turn the music down! I’m trying to get to sleep.
    ~ He told us to turn the music down as he was trying to get to sleep.
    ~ I told them to turn the music down as I was trying to get to sleep.
  • I think you should leave now. It’s very late.
    ~ She ordered us to leave as it was very late.
    ~ I ordered them to leave as it was very late.
  • I’ll write to you as soon as I get back home.
    ~ She promised to write to me as soon as she got back home.
    ~ I promised to write to her as soon as I got back home.

In this reply, I shall now concentrate on reporting direct speech questions, as this often causes greatest difficulty.



reporting yes/no questions

When we are reporting yes/no questions, we have to use if or whether. And we still need to operate the tense change of one tense further back, particularly if we are reporting the question that was asked at a later time or date:

  • Are you going to Tom’s wedding?
    ~ She asked me if I was going to Tom’s wedding.
  • Have you bought a new outfit for it?
    ~ She wondered whether I had bought a new outfit for it.



reporting wh-questions

The other changes to note when we are reporting questions is that there is no inversion (or change of the word order) of subject and verb in reported speech and no do/does/did when the question is reported. Compare the following:

  • What’s the matter?
    ~ She asked me what the matter was.
  • How do you feel today?
    ~ The doctor asked her how she felt.
  • Where are you going?
    ~I wanted to know where she was going.
  • Who is that girl in the red dress?
    ~ I wondered who that girl in the red dress was.
  • How did you make this salad?
    ~ I wondered how she’d made that salad.
  • Which Easter Egg would you like?
    ~ I asked him which Easter Egg he wanted.
  • Which Easter Egg did you buy?
    ~ My wife asked me which Easter Egg I had bought.

reporting suggestions and commands

There are a few verbs like suggest or insist that require the subjunctive when they are used in reported speech. This is very difficult to get right, so if you want to impress your friends, learn it! Compare the following:

  • Let’s go to Brighton for the weekend. / Why don’t we go to Brighton for the weekend?
    ~ I suggested that we should go to Brighton for the weekend.
    OR: I suggested we go to Brighton for the weekend.
  • You must do the washing up before you go out.
    ~I insisted that she should do the washing up before she went out.
    OR: I insisted that she do the washing up before she went out.
    OR: I commanded her to do the washing up before she went out.



If you would like more practice more please visit our Message Board in the You, Me and Us part of our website.

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