Unit 8.2

Changes of Modal Verbs in Reported Speech



When we want to report one person’s speech to another person we usually don’t use the exact words because we focus on the message rather than the exact words. That is why we transform the sentences. It is called reported speech.

Some modals in reported speech also shift back in time just like tenses do.


There are some modal verbs that change tense in reported speech.

The most commonly used are:

Modal VerbsModal Verbs in Reported Speech
Must (obligation)Had to
May (possibility)Might
May (permission)Could

Modal verbs that do not change:

  • Could;
  • Might;
  • Must (speculation)
  • Need;
  • Ought;
  • Should;
  • Would.


  • Mario stated that “I can use cold colours instead of warm colours”. > Mario stated that he could use cold colours instead of warm colours.
  • “I may meet with my sister”, said my mother. > My mother said that she might meet with her sister.
  • He said “My house must be located in Bordeaux”. > He said that his house had to be located in Bordeaux.
  • They said “It must be hard to understand the algebra”. > They said that it must be hard to understand the algebra.
  • He said ” If nuclear energy is used mistakenly, we shall die”. > He said that If nuclear energy was used mistakenly, we would die.
  • Joe said that “I will fix the plug”. > Joe said that he would fix the plug.


In reported speech we use some modal verbs one tense back.

After modal verbs we can also use the perfect tense of the verbs. We use them in a hypothetical, past sentence.


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