Indirect Quotations

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Colorful, striking direct quotations enliven a news story, but not everything an interview subject says is worth quoting in its entirety.

An hour of note-taking might result in a lot of information, but little in the way of pithy remarks. It’s the writer’s job to distinguish between what’s worth quoting verbatim, and what would be better paraphrased.

For example, you have interviewed numerous students and faculty about a university decision against arming teaching staff. Their comments are all very similar, so you decide not to quote them directly. Instead, you quote them indirectly:

Students and faculty interviewed for this story said they were relieved by the decision.

Certain alterations must be made when turning a direct quotation into reported speech. Verbs, pronouns, and time adverbials are changed:

Direct quotation: “I plan to climb Mount McKinley tomorrow.”
Indirect quotation: Jones said he planned to climb Mount McKinley the following day.

Direct quotation: “At the moment I’m performing at the Citadel, but next week I’ll be joining the cast of Grease at the Odeon.”
Indirect quotation: Jack Riprock said that at the time he was playing at the Citadel, but that the following week he would be joining the cast of Grease at the Odeon.

Go becomes went, is becomes was, will becomes would, and so on.

Now becomes then, today becomes that day, yesterday becomes the day before, etc.

The personal pronoun I becomes he or she, us becomes them, etc.

The transformed quotation is frequently phrased as a noun clause introduced by that:
She said that she would never forget the day she almost died.

Here are some verbs other than say that a writer can use to introduce an indirect quotation:

add, admit, agree, announce, answer, argue, boast, claim, comment, complain, confirm, consider, deny, doubt, estimate, explain, fear, feel, insist, mention, observe, persuade, propose, remark, remember, repeat, reply, report, reveal, state, suggest, suppose, tell, think, understand, warn, ask, know, remember, see, decide, expect, guarantee, hope, promise, swear, threaten, advise, beg, prefer, recommend, request, describe, discover, discuss, forget, guess, imagine, learn, realize, wonder, command, forbid, instruct, invite.

Note, the word that does not always have to be expressed: She said she would never forget the day she almost died.

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4 thoughts on “Indirect Quotations”

  1. A quote concerning a decision about arming teaching staff: “Students and faculty interviewed for this story said they were relieved by the decision.”

    Ah, you must be considering a career in journalism. You’ll go far with that kind of writing style. Very journalistically correct. The fact that the idea being imposed on those “interviewed” is ridiculous has nothing to do with what in journalism is called “the story.” Stories in journalism resemble what children mean when they talk of someone ‘telling a story.’

    Keep in mind that for this story about guns and mass killers:

    * It matters not that virtually all the mass shooters have targeted gun-free zones such as high schools and universities.

    * If matters not that, Israel, outraged over terrorist attacks on elementary schools, encouraged teachers to be armed and saw the attacks drop to virtually zero. Armed pilots, along with armored cockpits also make El Al one of the safest airlines to fly.

    * It matters not that in almost every case the killing stops as soon as soon as anyone arrives with a gun, be that a civilian, an off-duty cop, or the police. If fact, since Columbine High, the police response has been to go in immediately. But cops are slow in comparison to those already on the scene. Cops also have more trouble telling friend from foe.

    * It matters not that in many of these shootings, the killer stops killing and shoots himself as soon as anyone armed arrives. They don’t want to be taken alive.

    In short, the longer it takes for someone armed to arrive for whatever reason, the more people who die. And any reporter who actually finds ‘interviews’ turning out otherwise, is probably being very selective in who they talk with. Americans increasing see the solution to a bad guy with a gun being a good guy with a gun. They aren’t that concerned whether that good guy has a badge and a gun either.

    Interestingly, years ago two friends of mine were shot during a killing spree down the East coast. Both were shot in the head but survived in what can only be called miracles. Both were interviewed by a NY Times reporter who concluded the interview by telling them, “I can’t write the story I was sent to write.” What’d happened did not fit the ‘journalistically correct’ version of that story.

    He turned his notes over to someone else at the NY Times, who, unencumbered by reality, twisted the interview so badly, when my friends were contacted by the LA Times, which alos wanted to fly in a reporter for an interview, they told the paper to get lost.

    Since then I’ve made a point of never believing what a reporter tells me transpired in an interview. I’m interested in reality not carefully spun stories.

    –Michael W. Perry, editor of The School of Journalism by Joseph Pulitzer

  2. Quoting: “Jones said he planned to climb Mount McKinley the following day.”
    I was taught in elementary school and in junior high school that the word “that” is always used after “said” in indirect quotations.
    No, I did not go to school when King George III was the king of the British colonies in North America, or even when Martin Van Buren was the President of the United States.
    I went to school (including high school and college) during the 1960s and 1970s – and then to graduate school during part of the 1980s.
    Therefore, the sentence quoted above must be expressed like this:
    “Spielberg said THAT he planned to climb the Devil’s Tower on the following day.”
    The last ten words of the sentence form a subordinate clause, and thus they need to be preceded by either a subordinating conjunction or a subordinating pronoun.

    Isaac Newton said that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
    Albert Einstein said that matter could be converted into energy, and vice-versa, according to the relationship E = mc^2.

  3. @Michael W. Perry – Very Interesting commentary! I have been to many public hearings in my life, and the story in the newspaper the next day rarely matches the reality of the discussion. Issues are not fully explained. Comments are incomplete and selectively portrayed. Man-on-the street interviews almost always are a misrepresentation of what actually was said. Even facts presented by eyewitness accounts can be lost through interpretation.

    It’s obvious that the point of a newspaper article is not just to inform or tell a story (that’s just too boring). The primary objective is to stir the pot, provoke emotions, and incite a fight beyond civil reason and debate. As an insider, I’ve seen the facts twisted and the real issues barely explained. As an outsider, we advise the people generally sharing our position to avoid talking with the press because their comments will be spun into something unrecognizable to the point of undermining their argument and making them look foolish. Basically, readers must be skeptical because the truth can be a rare and elusive thing.

  4. I neglected to include or acknowledge the most obvious point made in the example above that the intent of a “story” often results in promoting a political position.

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