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Ministry of Education.

Direct and Indirect Speech

Direct Speech

In direct speech, the original speaker's exact words are given and are indicated by quotation marks.

 "I don't know what to do," said Dean.

In some grammar books, said Dean is referred to as a reporting clause. "I don't know what to do," is referred to as the reported clause.

Indirect Speech

In indirect speech, the exact meaning of the speaker's words is given, but the exact words are not directly quoted.

 Dean said that he didn't know what to do.

To convert direct speech into indirect speech:

  • If the main verb is past tense, present tense verbs in the that clause must also be changed to past tense.
    Dean said that he didn't know what to do.
  • First and second person pronouns must be changed to third person pronouns.
    Dean said that he didn't know what to do.

(The that can often be left out: Dean said he didn't know what to do.)

Indirect Questions

  • The same rules apply to indirect questions as to indirect statements. The difference is that a wh clause is used instead of a that clause.

Direct question:

 "Did Marama's horse win a prize?" Owen asked.

Indirect questions:

 Owen asked whether (or if) Marama's horse had won a prize.

Direct question:

 "Why won't you marry me?" asked Donald.

Indirect question:

 Donald asked her why she wouldn't marry him.

In telling a story or recounting events, a speaker using direct speech has all the resources of intonation to produce a lively account. Because indirect speech is always speech reported by someone else, the account is more reserved and restrained.

 "What shall we do?" asked Bev.

"Don't worry, Bev," said Duncan, "I've got a plan."

Bev asked Duncan what they should do. He told her not to worry and that he had a plan.

The ability to change direct speech into indirect speech is a useful skill for those engaged in taking the minutes of a meeting or reporting on events.

Direct speech:

 "First of all, I would like to thank everybody who helped with the fair. The results were very good, and we will now be able to buy two more computers."

Indirect speech:

 The principal said that he would like to thank everybody who had helped with the fair. He announced that the results were very good and that the school would now be able to buy two more computers.

Exploring Language content page

Exploring Language is reproduced by permission of the publishers Learning Media Limited on behalf of Ministry of Education, P O Box 3293, Wellington, New Zealand, © Crown, 1996.

Published on: 25 Feb 2009