Direct & Indirect Speech Rules & Examples

direct and indirect speech rules and examples

Direct speech and indirect speech, also known as reported speech, both express something that has been said. Here we’ll look at direct and indirect speech rules with examples, and converting direct speech into indirect speech.

DIRECT SPEECH

Direct speech tells the exact words that someone spoke and these are contained within speech marks “ “, also called quotation marks.

“I love dogs,” said Anne.

Speech Marks

Speech marks may be double “ “ or single ‘ ’
There is no difference between double and single speech marks, but use the same type for both the opening and closing speech mark, and be consistent throughout any one piece of writing. 

Both these examples have the exact same meaning and effect
“I love dogs,” said Anne.
‘I love dogs,’ said Anne.

Reporting Clause

The reporting clause – said Anne – attributes the words spoken to the person who spoke them.

A comma separates the direct speech in the speech marks and the reporting clause.

Note the positioning of the commas in these examples:
“I love dogs,” said Anne.  (inside the closing speech mark)
Anne said, “I love dogs.”  (before the opening speech mark)
“I love dogs,” said Anne, “but my landlord won’t allow pets.” (both sides of the reporting clause)

Punctuation

If the sentence continues beyond the end of the spoken words and the closing speech mark, a comma is placed inside the speech mark, and the full stop (question mark or exclamation mark) will come at the end of the sentence as usual (example 1)
“I love dogs,” said Anne.

If the end of the sentence falls at the end of the spoken words, a full stop (question mark or exclamation mark) is placed inside the closing quotation mark. (example 2)
Anne said, “I love dogs.” 

If the direct speech is broken up by a reporting clause, a comma is placed inside the first closing speech mark, as already seen in example 1, and another comma is also placed after the reporting clause. (example 3)

Note

When speech occurs in a passage of writing, each new occurrence of direct speech, usually from a new character, is started on a new line:

Anne stopped abruptly as she came to the pet shop window. She stood watching the sleeping puppies.
“I love dogs,” she said.
“Would you get one?” asked Mary.
“I would, but my landlord won’t allow pets.”
“Yes, of course, not many do.

INDIRECT SPEECH

Indirect speech is also known as reported speech. It is the re-telling, or reporting, of what someone said.

No quotation marks are used with indirect speech as it does not necessarily report the exact same words that were spoken.

Anne said that she liked dogs.
She said that she would like to get one but her landlord doesn’t allow pets.

The word ‘that’ should appear immediately before the reported words, however it is often omitted nowadays and both alternatives are accepted as correct:

Anne said that she liked dogs. 
Anne said she liked dogs.

DIRECT TO INDIRECT SPEECH

Indirect speech reports what has been said, so by definition it reports on something that has already happened, and must logically be in the past tense.

Often when converting direct speech into indirect speech the tense will backshift, meaning move backwards in tense. Two aspects influence this:
– the tense of the reporting verb i.e. he says, he said, he will say etc.  
– the tense of the reported speech itself i.e. the words contained in the speech marks

REPORTING VERB IN THE PRESENT & FUTURE TENSES

If the reporting verb is in the Present or Future tenses, then no change is made to the spoken verb tense i.e. the tense of verbs within the speech marks, when converting direct speech into indirect speech.

He says, “I am sitting in the garden.”
He says that he is sitting in the garden.
No change in the spoken verb tense as the reporting verb is in the present tense.

He said, “I am sitting in the garden.”
He said that he was sitting in the garden.
A change in the spoken verb tense as the reporting verb is in the past tense.

REPORTING VERB IN THE PAST TENSE

If the reporting verb is in the Past Tense, as is most common, then the tense of the direct speech i.e. the tense of verbs contained within the speech marks and as actually spoken, will backshift when converting from direct speech into indirect speech.

1. DIRECT SPEECH IN THE PRESENT TENSES

Present Simple becomes Past Simple
“I want a cup of tea,” she said.
She said that she wanted a cup of tea. 

Present Continuous becomes Past Continuous 
“I am watching television,” he said.
He said that he was watching television.

Present Perfect becomes Past Perfect 
“She has travelled to Mexico often” Tom said.
Tom said that she had travelled to Mexico often.

Present Perfect Continuous becomes Past Perfect Continuous
“We’ve been learning French for 3 years,” Sam said.
Sam said that they had been learning French for 3 years.

2. DIRECT SPEECH IN THE PAST TENSES

Past Simple becomes Past Perfect
“I ate too much last night,” he said 
He said that he had eaten too much last night.

Past Continuous becomes Past Perfect Continuous
“I was lying in the hammock,” said Frances
Frances said that she had been lying in the hammock.

Past Perfect does not change tense
“Amy had fallen asleep before we got home,” said Kim 
Kim said that Amy had fallen asleep before they got home.

Past Perfect Continuous does not change tense
“We had been staying in Paris all summer, said Mathew
Mathew said that they had been staying in Paris all summer.

3. DIRECT SPEECH IN THE FUTURE TENSES

The Future tenses will becomes would:

Future Simple (will)
“I will make the cake,” said Laura
Laura said that she would make the cake

Future Continuous (will be)
“Shaun will be coming alone,” said Helen
Helen said that Shaun would be coming alone.

Future Perfect (will have)
“I will have finished the essay,” said Andrew
Andrew said that he would have finished his essay.

Future Perfect Continuous (will have been)
“I will have been running for four hours,” said Lucy
Lucy said that she would have been running for four hours.

EXCEPTIONS

The tense does not change if:

the reported speech is in the present tense, and is being reported only a short time afterwards
“I’m coming over now,” Fiona said.
Fiona said that she is coming over now. (reported immediately)
Fiona said that she was coming over right then. (reported some time later, probably after the event)

the past simple and past continuous may remain unchanged if the sequence of events and time frame are clear from the context
“When I was learning Spanish, I often listened to Spanish radio stations,” said Dom
Dom said that when he was learning Spanish he often listened to Spanish radio stations.

PRACTICE EXERCISES

1. Change these sentences into indirect speech
I hate Mondays.’ said Shirley
Mark said, ‘I won the lottery last week.”
Children always say, “We don’t want homework!”
Simon said, “I will tell her tomorrow.”
Teresa said, “They had eaten before they arrived.’

2. Why are these all incorrect?
I hate apples.” said Lesley.
‘No, you can’t go to the party,’ Said Mum.
Where have all the good men gone?’ asked Natalie.
Do you want some chocolate?,” asked Mary.
‘I want a tea,’ said Larry, ‘but I don’t want a biscuit’.

Answers
1. Shirley said that she hated Mondays. Mark said that he had won the lottery last week. Children always say that they don’t want homework. Simon said that he would tell her tomorrow. Teresa said that they had eaten before they arrived.
2. there should be a comma not a full stop before the closing speech mark, no capital letter needed for said, both double and single speech marks used in the same sentence, only the question mark is necessary before the closing speech mark,full stop should be in the speech marks

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