Converting Direct Speech into Reported Speech

By Maeve Maddox

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This post is in response to a recent reader request:

I would be grateful if you could write about these two topics: Reported Speech and Indirect Speech.

To clarify, “Reported Speech” and “Indirect Speech” are the same thing.

I’ll assume that the reader intended to ask about the difference between Reported Speech and Direct Speech.

Direct speech consists of the exact words spoken by someone.

“I am glad to be here this evening.”

Indirect or Reported Speech consists of a report made of what was said by another.

The speaker said that she was glad to be there that evening.

Direct speech requires opening and closing quotation marks. Indirect speech is written without quotation marks.

Rules for reporting speech
The report of what someone has said begins with an introductory clause and a conjunction:

The speaker said that . . .
The witness asserted that . . .
Robert Redford was overheard expressing the opinion that . . .

First person pronouns change to third person:

“I am glad…” becomes She or he was glad . . .

The verbs of the original quotation will change according to the sequence of tenses.

Present tense is changed to past:

“I am glad…” becomes she was glad . . .

Future tense is changed to conditional:

“I think that you will be glad too” becomes He thought the audience would be glad too.

Words that signify proximity in time or place change to corresponding words signifying distance away: now, today, yesterday, last week, here, these become then, that day, the day before, the previous week, there, those.

“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”

becomes

Lincoln said that the world would little note, nor long remember what speakers said there, but it could never forget what they had done there.

Sometimes explanatory words or phrases are added for the sake of readers who afterwards read the quoted speech. For example, the indirect quotation from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address would be clearer with the insertion of additional information.

Lincoln said that the world would little note, nor long remember what speakers said at the Gettysburg battlefield commemoration, but it could never forget what the Union soldiers had done there.

Two other types of quotations require special handling: direct address and questions.

Direct address
Sometimes speakers directly address the people listening to them.

“And, ladies, and gentlemen, we must be tireless guardians of our ideals, as well as our security.” [speech by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III on the 20-year anniversary of the September 11, 2011 bombings in the United States.]

becomes

Secretary of Defense Austin told his listeners that Americans must be tireless guardians of their ideals, as well as their security.

Questions
A question changed to an indirect quotation loses its question mark.

“How can you buy or sell the sky—the warmth of the land?” (purported words of Chief Seattle)

becomes

Chief Seattle asked how one could buy or sell the sky or the warmth of the land.


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2 Responses to “Converting Direct Speech into Reported Speech”

  • Tony Collman

    You have neglected to highlight one of the most important points about reported questions and one with which foreigners (and recently, apparently, even many native speakers) have difficulty, which is the change in word order.

    “How are you going to get here?”

    Becomes: ‘she asked me how I was going to get there’, not

  • Tony Collman

    (apologies for premature posting)

    *’she asked me how was I going to get there’

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