Direct and Indirect Speech – Part 2

In Part 1, we discussed what reported speech was. In this part, we will learn how to convert direct speech to reported speech. When doing this, we must consider the following:

  1. What pronoun should we use? (depends on who you are talking about)
  2. What verb tense should we use? (usually past tense)

Statements

Example 1

Direct: On the first day of class, the professor said, I speak English.
(The professor is a male.)

Indirect: (You and I are in class. You dont speak English, and I am translating the professors words for you.) He says (that) he speaks English.

Analysis: Reported speech generally uses a that noun clause to introduce the reported speech. The that is optional and may be omitted. I chose the pronoun he because the professor is a male. I chose present tense because I am telling you what he is saying as he is saying it.

Example 2

Direct: On the first day of class, the professor said, I speak English and Russian.
(The professor is a female.)

Indirect: (Outside of class the next day, you ask me what language the professor speaks.) She said (that) she spoke English and Russian.

Analysis: I chose the pronoun she because the professor is a female. I chose past tense because I am telling you what she said yesterday.

Example 3

Direct: I said, Its about time you showed up. Ive been waiting for over an hour.

Indirect: (You asked me what I said.) I said that it was about time you showed up because I have been waiting for over an hour.

Analysis: I used the pronoun I because I am reporting what I said a few minutes ago. I used the pronoun you because I am talking about you (not someone else). I used past tense because I am reporting what I said in the past.

Questions

For questions, we have two considerations:

  1. For questions using a question (interrogative) word, such as why/how/who/what/when, the verb-subject order must be reversed to subject-verb order.
  2. For question without a question word (e.g., to do/to have/to be), convert the question into a whether/if statement.

Example 1

Direct: A group of people ask me, Excuse me. What time is it?

Indirect: (After they leave, you ask me what they said to me.) They asked me what time it was.

Analysis: I use the pronoun they because I am referring to a group of people. I used past tense because they asked me in the past. Note that:
Direct speech uses question order or verb-subject: What time is it?
Reported speech uses statement order or subject-verb (what time it was).
Failure to convert question order to statement order for questions is a common error that students make.

Example 2

Direct: Where is the post office? a cute blonde girl asked me.

Indirect: She wants to know where the post office is. (present tense)
She asked me where the post office was. (past tense)

Analysis: I used the pronoun she because I am reporting what a girl said. If I am telling you what she said while she is waiting for me to answer her, I can use present tense. If she left, and I am telling you what she asked, I would use past tense.

Example 3

Direct: My friend saw that my arm was in a cast and asked, Does a broken bone hurt?

Indirect: My friend asked me if a broken bone hurt.

Analysis: I didnt use a pronoun here. I just used my friend. This question does NOT use a question word (who/what/when/where/why/how). Instead it uses does. In this case, I must convert the question to an if/whether form. I chose if in this case. Note that in this case, BOTH direct and indirect use statement order (subject-verb)bone hurt. Therefore, all I need to do is to replace does with if (or whether). Finally, something in English that is easy!

Example 4

Direct: Is the class time long enough to cover this material? the principal asked the teacher.

Indirect: The principal asked the teacher whether the class time was long enough to cover the material.

Analysis: I didnt use any pronouns. I just used principal and teacher. I used past tense. This question does NOT use a question word (who/what/when/where/why/how). Instead it uses is. In this case, I must convert the question to an if/whether form. I chose whether in this case but I could have used if as well. The subject-verb order was changed from is time to time was.

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