Wednesday Writing: Direct Speech vs. Indirect Speech

Direct Speech: -also known as direct discourse or quoted speech -original source -requires quotation marks Indirect Speech: -also known as indirect discourse or reported speech -reporter -does not use quotation marks

*A note about terminology before I get to the explanation: 

In this context, a reporter is someone who relays the meaning of someone else’s statement in their own words. The original source refers to the person who first said the words that are being quoted or reported.

Quotation marks are called inverted commas in some parts of the world.

If you share someone’s exact words, you put their words between quotation marks. That is direct speech. If you relay the meaning of what someone else said, but you put it in your own words, that is indirect speech.

Direct speech is also known as direct discourse or quoted speech. Indirect speech is sometimes called indirect discourse or reported speech. 

When the information you are sharing in indirect speech is a statement, you use a that-clause.

Direct SpeechIndirect Speech
John said, “I am hungry.”John told them that he was hungry.

*Note: There is a recent trend among writers to eliminate all unnecessary words, including the word “that”. A that-clause is still a that-clause even if the “that” is omitted. 

*Also note: Sometimes you have to change the pronoun when you switch from direct to indirect speech. John, when talking about himself, said “I am hungry.” But when you are talking about John, you need to say that he was hungry.

When the information you are sharing in indirect speech is a question, you use an if-clause, a whether-clause, one of the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where, why), or how.

Direct SpeechIndirect Speech
He asked, “Did she have a good flight?”He asked if she had a good flight.
She asked, “Would you like Chinese or Mexican food for supper?”She asked whether I would prefer Chinese or Mexican food for supper.
I asked, “Who are they?”I asked who they were.
She asked, “How are you?”She asked how I was.

*Note that when you change a quoted question to indirect speech, it is no longer a question. Therefore the sentence in indirect speech omits the question mark and changes the word order.

When the information you are sharing in indirect speech is a command, you use the infinitive form of the verb (to + verb). This format can also be used in the context of advice, warning, or encouragement.

Direct SpeechIndirect Speech
The teacher said, “Listen carefully.”
The teacher told the class to listen carefully.
The investor said, “By low; sell high.”The investor advised her to buy low and to sell high.
The flight attendant said, “Watch your step!”The flight attendant warned me to watch my step.
His mother said, “Rest so you will feel better.”His mother encouraged him to rest so he would feel better.

Indirect speech is usually in a past tense, because you are stating what was previously said. However, if the statement is something that continues to be true, indirect speech could use the present tense.

Direct SpeechIndirect Speech
She said, “Paris is an interesting city.”She said that Paris is an interesting city.

When you change direct speech into indirect speech, you shift the tense one step back into the past.

For example, Simple Present changes to the Simple Past. Follow the chart for verb tense changes with examples.

Direct SpeechIndirect Speech
Simple PresentSimple Past
He asked, “Do you want to go to a concert tonight?”He asked if I wanted to go to a concert tonight.
Present PerfectPast Perfect
I replied, “I have never heard that group before.”I replied that I had never heard that group before.
Present Progressive
*Note: Progressive is sometimes called Continuous
Present Progressive

He said, “I am going to invite Marie and Charles too.”He said that he was going to invite Marie and Charles too.
Present Perfect Progressive Past Perfect Progressive
She said, “I have been hoping to hear this group perform live.”She said that she had been hoping to hear this group perform live.
Simple PastPast Perfect
He said, “I went to the arena to buy tickets.”He said that he had gone to the arena to buy tickets.
Past ProgressivePast Progressive
They said, “We were going to the beach when we heard about the concert.”They said that they had been going to the beach when they heard about the concert.
She said, “I will make dinner tonight.”She said that she would make dinner tonight.

The exception to this pattern is that the Past Perfect does not change. Past Perfect is as past as you can get, so if the sentence is written in the Past Perfect in Direct Speech, it is also written in the Past Perfect in Indirect Speech.

Direct SpeechIndirect Speech
Past PerfectPast Perfect
She asked, “Had the concert already started when they arrived?”She asked if the concert had already started when they arrived.

Now that you know the difference between direct speech and indirect speech, how do you know when to use each? Unless you are doing an assignment that requires one or the other, the choice is up to you. Think about the kind of document you are writing. Is it formal or academic? Or is it more informal and conversational? Is it important to relay the exact words that someone said? Or is it more important to get the idea of what they meant? Are you writing something that you want people to share? A good quotation can be used to promote the article. Does the person you are referencing have a lot of good things to say, but doesn’t say them succinctly enough for quotations? Putting their thoughts into your own words might make your article more readable. In many situations a balance of both is ideal. Choose what will best suit your context.

One Comment

Comments are closed.