It seems like almost everyone has their favourite big-budget TV drama these days, whether it’s the blood-splattered fantasy of Game of Thrones or the Machiavellian political intrigue of House of Cards. Even shows from the UK like Sherlock, Downton Abbey and Peaky Blinders are finding an international fanbase as viewers lap up the nail-biting storylines, charismatic heroes and razor-sharp dialogue.


The current crop of high-quality shows have led many to proclaim that we’re living in a “Golden Age of Television,” in which the medium has even surpassed movies as the focus of mainstream attention.


And it’d be hard to argue otherwise if the enthusiasm of fans is anything to go by. If you’re anything like me, you rush to discuss the latest Game of Thrones episode after a particularly shocking twist in the story. Or maybe you go straight onto social media to share your personal fan theories about where a character will end up?


Either way, discussing these shows in detail has become a regular part of many people’s lives.


However, for English learners, this can be a little difficult. When we relay storylines and quote our favourite characters, we need to follow certain rules that can appear a little confusing. This article is going to look at the topic of direct and reported speech using quotes from some of the most popular TV dramas currently being broadcast.


House of Cards


Let’s start by looking at some dialogue from US political drama House of Cards. In the final episode of the show’s first season, Kevin Spacey’s scheming congressman Frank Underwood explains one of his personal philosophies. He says:


  • “Of all the things I hold in high regard, rules are not one of them.”


So, how would we report this quote? Take a look below:


  • Underwood said (that) of all the things he held in high regard, rules were not one of them.


You can probably see straight away that we have changed several forms and added extra words. In fact, we can take note of four main differences:


  • We add a subject (Underwood)
  • We add a reporting verb in the past simple (said)
  • We change the personal pronoun from first person singular (I) to third person singular (he)
  • We change the present simple (hold/are) to the past simple (held/were)


The subject we’ve used here happens to be a proper noun (a name). However we could just as easily use a pronoun such as he. Also, be aware that we can choose to add that after the reporting verb, but it’s not necessary in English.


This reported speech table will help you understand how you need to change verb tenses when you report them. Note that some of the verb forms (the past perfect) remain the same in reported speech.


Direct speech

Reported speech

Present simple

Past simple

Present continuous

Past continuous

Present perfect

Past perfect

Present perfect continuous

Past perfect continuous

Past simple

Past perfect

Past continuous

Past perfect continuous

Past perfect

Past perfect

Past perfect continuous

Past perfect continuous

Will + verb

Would + verb

Will be + verbing

Would be + verbing

Will have + past participle

Would have + past participle

Will have been + verbing

Would have been + verbing




Let’s take a look at another quote. This time it’s from the latest adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, featuring actor Benedict Cumberbatch as the obsessive sleuth. In The Reichenbach Fall (the final episode of the second series), Holmes confronts his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty, who accuses him of being “on the side of the angels.” Holmes replies:


  • “Oh, I may be on the side of the angels, but don’t think for a second that I am one of them.”


Let's take a look at that in reported speech:


  • Sherlock said (that) he might be on the side of the angels, but that Moriarty shouldn’t think that he was one of them.


This one is slightly trickier. Like the Frank Underwood quote above, we can see the addition of a subject (Sherlock), a reporting verb in the past simple (said) and the optional use of that. The main verb form (may be) changes to might be. You will also notice that the negative imperative verb in the second part (but don’t think) changes to the negative modal verb using the name of the person he was speaking to as the subject (but Moriarty shouldn’t think).


And this is where reported speech gets a little difficult. Sometimes we have to editorialise. In other words, we have to interpret what someone has said, instead of trying to stick rigidly to every word they use.


The table below shows you how we can report modal verbs. You will notice that some of them change, while others remain the same in their reported forms.


Direct speech

Reported speech

can (present ability)


can (future ability)

would be able to

may (possibility)


must (obligation present)

must/had to

have to (obligation present)

had to

must (probability)


should (obligation)


ought to (obligation)

ought to


The Walking Dead


Finally, we’ll take a look at a quote from zombie-thriller The Walking Dead. In this quote, former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes attempts to motivate the remaining survivors of the zombie apocalypse. He says:


  • “Everyone is alive right now. Everyone has made it this far.”


Let’s take a look at what happens when we report this quote:


  • He said everyone was alive at that time and that everyone had made it that far.


There are two things we need to be aware of here. Firstly, the use of time phrases. Grimes refers to “right now,” meaning at the time of the story. Naturally, we need to push this back in time, just like we do with the verb tenses. In the example given, we use at that time to indicate that this is a past time.


Take a look at the table below, which gives some examples of how we can change time phrases when reporting on someone’s speech:


Direct speech

Reported speech

this evening

that evening

today/this day

that day


then/at that time

a week ago

a week before

last weekend

the weekend before/the previous weekend

next week

the following week


the following day


the day before


Secondly, Grimes’ statement is made in two separate sentences. However, it can cause confusion if we try to condense them into one sentence when reporting these statements. Here, we have two options: to start a new reported sentence (He also said) or to join the two separate sentences with and that.




Take a look at these direct quotes from current popular TV shows and try to turn them into reported speech by using the techniques outlined above.


Game of Thrones (season one, episode seven)


  • When you play the game of thrones you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” - Cersei Lannister


Breaking Bad (season five, episode eleven)


  • My name is Walter Hartwell White. I live at 308 Negra Arroyo Lane, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87104. This is my confession. If you’re watching this tape, I’m probably dead.” - Walter White


Mad Men (season one, episode one)


  • What you call ‘love’ was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.” - Don Draper


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