Direct and Indirect Speech – Part 1

I often see students make mistakes when using indirect speech. I will refer to “indirect speech” as reported speech because someone it telling, or reporting to, someone what someone else said. This was a suggested topic for discussion, so here it is. I will present this in several parts due to the complexity of converting direct to reported speech.

Part 1

Direct Speech

Direct speech is very easy. It is the exact words that someone says at the time that they are saying them. Double quotes are required to indicate direct speech. Some websites refer to quote marks as “inverted commas”. I have never heard this term in American English. We always call them quote marks. English has two kinds of quote marks: double quote marks ( ” ) and single quote marks ( ‘ ).

Let’s look at some examples. Pay attention to the punctuation.

  1. Teacher Lee said, “Direct speech is very easy.”
  2. “To be or not to be, that is the question!” exclaimed the actor.
  3. “What is two plus two?” asked the teacher.
  4. “It’s elementary, my dear Watson,” Sherlock Holmes stated casually.
  5. “Direct speech is very easy,” Teacher Lee said.
  6. “If you think you can speak to me like that,” she said, “you had better think again!”
  7. “Don’t speak to me like that,” she said. “Go up to your room.”
  8. “Im going out now. Is that OK?” he asked.

Here are the rules of punctuation for direct speech:

  • Put every word that was said inside double quote marks.
  • Always use a capital letter for the first word of each sentence inside the double quote marks. See difference between Examples #6 and #7.
  • Separate the direct speech from the rest of the sentence, usually using a comma. See differences between Examples #1, #2, #3, and #4. Note that ? and ! marks do NOT use a comma separator. Only statements with a period use comma separators.
  • See this link for The Ten Rules of Quoted Speech.

Reported, orIndirect, Speech

Reported speech is used when you are telling someone what someone else said. Let’s convert the direct speech examples above into reported speech. Note that present tense or past tense may be used, depending on how much time has passed between the saying and the telling.

  1. Teacher Lee says that direct speech is very easy.
  2. The actor said that the was question was ‘To be or not to be’.
  3. The teacher asked what two plus two is.
  4. Sherlock Holmes told Watson that it was elementary. (I used past tense here.)
  5. Teacher Lee said that direct speech was very easy. (past tense)
  6. She told him that if he thought he could speak to her like that, then he had better think again.
  7. She told me not to speak to her like that, and then she told me to go up to my room.
  8. He asked if it was okay for him to go out now.

Here are some tips about reported speech:

  • Reported speech may be in present or past tense. If I am asking you what someone is saying right now (i.e., What did he just say?), you might use present tense. However, if I am asking you what someone said in the past, then you would probably use past tense. See Examples #1 and 5# to compare present and past reporting tenses.
  • This link has some examples of how to change direct to reported speech.
  • In Part 2 of this discussion, I will discuss in more detail how to convert direct speech into reported speech.

Self-Assessment Test on Direct Speech Punctuation

Nine of the following sentence have exactly one error. Identify these errors.
One sentence is perfect (no errors). Identify which sentence this is.

  1. Teacher Lee says “There is exactly one error in each sentence.”
  2. “Tennis is a great game!”, Roger Federer yelled.
  3. “What the h— were you thinking,” his mom asked.
  4. “The music is too loud for me to hear what you are saying.” my friend said.
  5. “LEWWWP is a great website for students to learn English”, Holly said.
  6. “My dog is the sweetest and gentlest animal on the face of the Earth,” I said!
  7. “I love drinking Starbucks lattes! Teacher Lee shouted with glee.
  8. “Take me out to the ball game,” the song began.
  9. “The Internet is an amazing feat of technology!” the professor said. “do you agree, students?”
  10. “We have met the enemy,” the politician said, “And he is us.”

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