Direct and Indirect Speech

Direct and indirect speech grammar rules vary so you need to understand them. We'll start by looking at what each one is. Note that indirect speech is also commonly knows as reported speech.

Definition of Direct Speech

Direct speech is when the words are given in exactly the way that the speaker said them. So in other words they are quoted with no change.

When presenting direct speech, the words are usually placed in quotation marks, with a comma after say(s) / said if it is used to present the speech. Say(s) / said can also be placed at the end of the quotation, in which case a comma comes before it.


Examples of Direct Speech:

  • He said, "Don't take the car without asking me".
  • John says, "I will help you with your work".
  • "We are prepared to revise the law if we can", they said.
  • The teacher said, "You must wear the proper uniform".


Definition of Indirect Speech

Indirect speech is also known as reported speech. You may also see it referred to as indirect discourse or indirect narration.

Indirect speech is the reporting of what someone else said in your own words but without changing the meaning of what was said. 

Reporting verbs are used to present indirect speech. The common ones are:

  • say(s)/said (that)
  • told me (that)

That is in brackets as it can be omitted from the sentence, whether spoken or written.

Direct and Indirect SpeechIndirect Speech


Examples of Indirect Speech:

  • He said (that) he would definitely buy it.
  • Sheila told me (that) I had to come back in the afternoon.
  • The council said (that) they will try and clear the rubbish.
  • She told me (that) she was feeling unwell. 


So the key difference between direct and indirect speech is that with direct speech the exact words are quoted but in indirect speech it is your own words

Direct speech is fairly simple to use and understand as it involves just repeating what was said. There is not much to get confused about with the grammar, apart from getting say(s)/said correct.

But indirect or reported speech is more difficult so we will look at that in more detail now.




Direct and Indirect Speech Conversion

With direct and indirect speech, there are three main things you need to be aware of when converting one to the other:

  • Changes in Tense
  • Changes in Person and Pronouns
  • Changes in Time Phrases

Changing Tenses

The tense of verbs when moving from direct to indirect speech do not necessarily change because if the circumstances of what someone said is the same, then it may be reported as that. For example:

  • "I am feeling tired" (= Direct Speech)
  • Present Continuous

  • She said she is feeling tired (= Indirect Speech)
  • Present Continuous

However, as we are reporting what was said in the past, we often change the tense. This rule for this is related to backshifting, which means shifting back a tense. So the present will go back to the past. Some modals also change.

Here are examples using the previous examples of indirect speech, showing you how they look like in direct speech:

Direct Speech

  • "I want to meet you later".
  • "You have to come back in the afternoon"
  • "We like it a lot"
  • "I have been mowing the lawn" 

Indirect Speech

  • He said he wanted to meet me later.
  • Sheila told me I had to come back in the afternoon.
  • They said they liked it a lot. 
  • He said he had been mowing the lawn. 

There are more details on the site about changing tenses in indirect / reported speech:

Learn more about changing tenses >>

Changing Pronouns

Pronouns in indirect speech also need to be changed from what they were in the indirect speech, as well as of course adapting the first pronoun to fit the person who said the statement:

Direct Speech

  • "I want to meet you later".
  • "You have to come back in the afternoon"
  • "We like it a lot"
  • "I have been walking with my wife" 

Indirect Speech

  • He said he wanted to meet me later.
  • Sheila told me I had to come back in the afternoon.
  • They said they liked it a lot. 
  • He said he had been walking with his wife. 

Changing Time Phrases

You may also need to change phrases referring to time, though this depends on the context and when you are reporting the speech. 

With these examples you have to assume the speech is being reported at a time in the future so the phrases such as 'yesterday' or 'tomorrow' would not makes sense any more in terms of the reported speech.

Direct Speech

  • She said, "I saw her yesterday".
  • He said, "He will bring the book tomorrow".
  • She said, "I'm going to London today".
  • He said, "We need your assistance now".

Indirect Speech

  • She said that she had seen her the day before.
  • He said that he would bring the book the next day.
  • She said she was going to London that day
  • He said they needed my assistance  then

Imperatives

Some different rules apply when turning direct speech using imperatives or commands into indirect speech. Check out the rules here:

Rules for Reported Speech Imperatives >>


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