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Direct vs. Indirect Speech: Definition, Rules & Examples

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  • 0:03 Background on Communication
  • 0:25 Direct Speech
  • 1:17 Indirect Speech
  • 2:00 Converting Direct to…
  • 5:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

Sometimes we want to directly quote a speaker, while other times we want to translate their original speech into our own words. In this lesson, you'll learn about the difference between direct and indirect speech and explore the grammatical differences of each.

Background on Communication

Spoken and written communication is like one big game of telephone. Sometimes we hear the original tale, and other times we hear a retelling of the story. In this lesson, we're going to explore what that means by studying the difference between direct and indirect speech and learning proper grammar techniques for both.

Direct Speech

Direct speech, also known as quoted speech, consists of words or phrases that are taken directly from the source. These words are quoted or written exactly as the words were originally spoken.

With regards to direct speech, there is no interpretation or annotation; the words are taken directly from one source and repeated to another. In other words, we take the words directly from the speaker and repeat them exactly as they were originally stated.

Here are some examples of direct speech:

  • Jonah said, ''I don't like your hat.''
  • Jonah said, ''Please take off that Yankees hat.''
  • Jane said, ''It's not my fault that you are a Red Sox fan.''

In these examples, the direct speech is shown in quotations, which signifies that the speech is taken directly from the source with no alterations.

Indirect Speech

Indirect speech, also known as reported speech, is when words or phrases are reported in our own words. The original words are modified and/or interpreted as opposed to being quoted.

When talking about indirect speech, we use words that refer to something that has already happened. To do so, we are speaking in the past tense and are summarizing, modifying, or synthesizing what has already been said.

Here are some examples of indirect speech:

  • Amy said it was cold.
  • He said he had been on Facebook since 2010.
  • She said she had been teaching college classes for two years.

Converting Direct to Indirect Speech

When we use direct speech, we are repeating what was said. When we use indirect speech, we're reporting what was said. Let's now look at some specific examples to learn how to change speech from direct to indirect. These examples will also reinforce the difference between direct and indirect speech.

1. Changing From Present Tense to Past Tense

When converting speech from direct to indirect, you must change the present tense verbs to the past tense and remove any quotation marks or commas.

Direct Speech (Present Tense) Indirect Speech (Past Tense)
Jenn says, ''I love watching TV.'' Jenn said she loved watching TV.

2. Changing From Simple Past Tense to Past Perfect Tense

What if the direct speech is already written in the past tense? If the sentence is written in simple past tense, you just remove the punctuation and change the verb to past perfect to make it indirect speech.

Direct Speech (Simple Past Tense) Indirect Speech (Past Perfect Tense)
Lana said, ''I saw him at the mall.'' Lana said she had seen him at the mall.

3. Changing Speech in the Form of a Question

What if direct speech is in the form of a question? For example: ''Do you want to go on a trip to Europe?'' To make a direct question indirect, follow the same tense change rules as before, add ''asked me'' to signify reporting a question, and keep the question word.

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