Direct and Indirect Speech

Words spoken by a person can be reported to another person in two ways. These two ways of narration are called direct speech and indirect speech.

Direct speech

When we use direct speech we quote the actual words said by the speaker.

Examples are:
She said, ‘I am going to the market.’
John said, ‘I will be late today.’
Alice said, ‘Would you like to come with me?’

 

Indirect speech

When we use indirect speech, we do not quote the exact words said by the speaker. Instead, we express the idea in our own words.

In order to report the words of the original speaker in our own language, we have to make several changes in his/her sentence. The important rules are given below:

Rules regarding the Change of Personal Pronouns

First Personal Pronoun I My Me
We Our Us
Second Personal Pronoun You Your You
 Third Personal Pronoun He His Him
She Her Her
It Its It
They Their Them

Normally we make the following changes in the personal pronoun of the reported speech.

  • First personal pronoun of the reporting speech changes according to the subject of the reported speech.
  • Second personal pronoun of the reporting speech changes according to the object of the reported speech.
  • Third personal pronoun of the reporting speech doesn’t undergo any change

Table for Personal Pronouns

Personal Pronouns of Reported Speech  1st

 

 2nd  3rd
Change according to the Subject / Object of the Reporting Speech  Subject  Object  No Change

 

Rules regarding the Change in Tenses

 

When the reporting verb is in the present or future tense…

If the reporting verb is in the present or future tense, the tense of the verb in the direct speech does not undergo any changes in the indirect speech.

She says, ‘I have done my duty.’ (Direct speech)
She says that she has done her duty. (Indirect speech)
Direct: He says to her, ‘I will wait for you at the railway station.’
Indirect: He tells her that he will wait for her at the railway station.
Direct: He says, ‘I am not coming.’
Indirect: He says that he is not coming.
Direct: She will say, ‘I don’t want to come.’
Indirect: She will say that she does not want to come.
Direct: He will say, ‘I cannot wait any longer.’
Indirect: He will say that he cannot wait any longer.

When the reporting verb is in the past tense…

When the reporting verb is in the past tense, all present tenses inside the quotation marks will change to their corresponding past tenses.

The simple present tense will change into the simple past tense.
The present continuous tense will change into the past continuous tense.
The past continuous tense will change into the past perfect continuous tense.

The present perfect tense will change into the past perfect tense.
The present perfect continuous tense will change into the past perfect continuous tense.

Past perfect and Past perfect continuous do not change.

1st form of the Verb → Changes into 2nd form of the Verb  → Changes into had + 3rd form of the Verb
Do/Does       → Did          → Had + 3rd form
Is/am/are + 1st form+ing → Change into Was/were + 1st form+ing → Change into had been + 1st form+ing
Has/have +3rd form  → Change into Had+3rd form  → ‘Had’ doesn’t change (No change)
Has/have been +1st  form+ing  → Change into Had been +1st  form+ing  → ‘Had been’ doesn’t change (No change)
Shall/Will + 1st form → Would + 1st form

Here the reporting verb (said) is in the past tense. To change this sentence into indirect speech, we have to change the present tense(s) inside the quotation marks into their corresponding past tenses.

Direct and Indirect Speech: Rules for the Change of Tenses

We have seen that when the reporting verb is in the past tense, all present tenses inside the quotation marks will change into their corresponding past tenses in indirect speech. Study the example sentences given below.

Direct: She said, ‘I don’t want to come with you.’
Indirect: She said that she didn’t want to come with me.
Direct: He said, ‘I am writing a letter.’
Indirect: He said that he was writing a letter.
Direct: She said, ‘I have finished the work.’
Indirect: She said that she had finished the work.
Direct: He said, ‘I want some razors.’
Indirect: He said that he wanted some razors.
Direct: John said, ‘I have been living in this city for ten years.’
Indirect: John said that he had been living in that city for ten years.
Direct: He said, ‘I have been waiting here for several hours.’
Indirect: He said that he had been waiting there for several hours.

When the reporting verb is in the past tense, past tenses inside the quotation marks will change into their corresponding past tenses.

The simple past will change into the past perfect.
The past continuous will change into the past perfect continuous.
The past perfect and past perfect continuous tenses will remain unchanged.

Direct: He said, ‘Burglars broke into my house last night.’
Indirect: He said that burglars had broken into his house the previous night.
Direct: She said to me, ‘I was waiting for my sister.’
Indirect: She told me that she had been waiting for her sister.
Direct: She said, ‘I had never met such people before.’
Indirect: She said that she had never met such people before.
Direct: John said, ‘I had been gardening for two hours.’
Indirect: John said that he had been gardening for two hours.

Note that sometimes we do not change a simple past tense into past perfect tense in the indirect speech.

Direct: He said, ‘I lived many years in the US.’

Indirect: He said that he lived many years in the US. OR He said that he had lived many years in the US.

Note that the past perfect tense is used to lay stress on the completion of one past action before another past action.

When the reporting verb is in the past tense, shall will change into should in indirect speech. Similarly, will will change into wouldcan into could and may into might.

Direct: She said, ‘I will work hard.’
Indirect: She said that she would work hard.
Direct: He said, ‘They will be arriving here by the next train.’
Indirect: He said that they would be arriving there by the next train.
Direct: Alice said, ‘I will have finished the work by now.’
Indirect: Alice said that she would have finished the work by then.

Rules for the Change of Adverbs in Indirect Speech

Besides the changes in the tenses and the pronouns, words expressing nearness in direct speech are changed into words expressing distance in indirect speech. The rules are as follows:

This will change into that.
These will change into those.
Here will change into there.
Now/just will change into then.
Today will change into that day.
Yesterday will change into the previous day or the day before.
Last night will change into the previous night or the night before.
Tomorrow will change into the next day.
Ago will change into before.
The next day/week/year will change into the following day/week/year.
Hence will change into thence.
Thus will change into so or in that way.

Direct: He said, ‘I am too weak to work now.’
Indirect: He said that he was too weak to work then.
Direct: She said, ‘I will leave for New York tomorrow.’
Indirect: She said that she would leave for New York the next day.
Direct: He said, ‘I visited them yesterday.’
Indirect: He said that he had visited them the previous day.
Direct: She said, ‘I liked this bag.’
Indirect: She said that she liked that bag.
Direct: I said, ‘I am leaving tomorrow.’
Indirect: She said that she was leaving the next day.
Direct: She said, ‘These mangoes are rotten.’
Indirect: She said that those mangoes were rotten.
Direct: He said, ‘These are our dogs.’
Indirect: He said that those were their dogs.

Notes:

Adverbs of time or place do not normally change if the reporting verb is in the present or future tense.

Direct: She says, ‘My husband will come now.’
Indirect: She says that her husband will come now.
Direct: She will say, ‘I have to leave now.’
Indirect: She will say that she has to leave now.

If the adverbs now, this, here etc., refer to objects present at the time of reporting the speech, or to the place in which the reporter is at the time of the speech, they are not changed into then, that, there etc.

John said to me, ‘I have no time to talk to you now.’
John told me that he had no time to talk to me now. (Here the report is made immediately.)
Alice said, ‘This is my basket.’
Alice said that this was her basket. (Here the basket is right before us.)
He said, ‘I will speak here.’
He said that he would speak here. (Here the report is made on the same spot.)

Types of Sentences

1:      Declarative Sentences

Turn the following sentences into indirect speech.

1.    John said, ‘I am very busy now.’
2.    He said, ‘The horse has been fed.’
3.    ‘I know her name and address,’ said John.
4.    ‘German is easy to learn,’ she said.
5.    He said, ‘I am writing letters.’
6.    ‘It is too late to go out,’ Alice said.
7.    He said to me, ‘I don’t believe you.’
8.    He says, ‘I am glad to be here this evening.’
9.    He said to me, ‘What are you doing?’
10.    ‘Where is the post office?’ asked the stranger.
11.    He said, ‘Will you listen to me?’
12.    John said to Peter, ‘Go away.’
13.    She said to me, ‘Please wait here till I return.’
14.    ‘Call the witness,’ said the judge.
15.    The speaker said, ‘Be quiet and listen to my words.’

Answers

1.    John said that he was very busy then.
2.    He said that the horse had been fed.
3.    John said that he knew/knows her name and address. (Note that the tenses may not change if the statement is still relevant or if it is a universal truth.)
4.    She said that German is/was easy to learn.
5.    He said that he was writing letters.
6.    Alice said that it was too late to go out.
7.    He told me that he didn’t believe me. OR He said he didn’t believe me.
8.    He says that he is glad to be here this evening. (When the reporting verb is in the present tense, adverbs of time and place do not normally change in indirect speech.)
9.    He asked me what I was doing.
10.    The stranger asked where the post office is/was.
11.    He asked me if I would listen to him.
12.    John ordered Peter to go away.
13.    She asked me to wait there till she returned.
14.    The judge commanded them to call the first witness.
15.    He urged them to be quiet and listen to them.

2:      Interrogative Sentences

There are two main kinds of interrogative sentences. Those which start with an auxiliary verb and those which start with a question word such as what, why, when, where, how etc.

The following changes occur when an interrogative sentence in the direct speech is changed to the indirect speech.

Interrogative sentences beginning with an auxiliary verb are changed into the indirect speech by using the connective if or whether.

The reporting verb said (or any other word used as the reporting verb) changes to asked, queried, questioned, demanded of or enquired of in the indirect speech. Note that of is used after enquired and demanded only when the reporting verb has an object.

The most common reporting verbs used to report a question are asked and enquired of. The reporting verb queried is somewhat investigative. Demanded of is the strongest of all reporting verbs mentioned above. It is used when an explanation is desired.

Note that the indirect narration is always in the assertive form. In other words, the interrogative sentences in the direct speech will change into assertive sentences in the indirect speech.

Study the following examples carefully to understand the rules mentioned above.

Direct: She said to me, ‘Are you coming with us?’
Indirect: She asked me if I was going with them. OR She asked them if I was coming with them.
Direct: She said to me, ‘Are you unwell?’
Indirect: She asked me if I was unwell.
Direct: She said to him, ‘Am I to wait for you till eternity?’
Indirect: She enquired of him if she was to wait for him till eternity.
Direct: I said to him, ‘Were you present at the meeting yesterday?’
Indirect: I asked him whether he had been present at the meeting the day before (or the previous day).
Direct: The woman asked the stranger, ‘Should I help you?’
Indirect: The woman asked the stranger whether she should help him.

Note that the auxiliary verbs should, could, would, ought to and might do not change in the indirect speech.

Direct: I said to him, ‘Who are you?’
Indirect: I asked him who he was.
Direct: The mother said to the daughter, ‘Do you know where John is?’
Indirect: The mother asked the daughter whether she knew where John was.
Direct: ‘Have you anything to say on behalf of the accused?,’ said the judge to the lawyer.
Indirect: The judge enquired of the lawyer if he had anything to say on behalf of the accused.

 

Change the following sentences into indirect speech.

1.    ‘What do you want?’ she asked him.
2.    ‘Are you coming with us?’ he asked me.
3.    He asked, ‘When do you intend to make the payment?’
4.    ‘Do you come from China?’ said the prince to the girl.
5.    The poor man exclaimed, ‘Will none of you help me?’
6.    ‘Which way should I go?’ asked the little girl.
7.    Alladin said to the magician, ‘What have I done to deserve so severe a punishment?’
8.    ‘Don’t you know the way home?’ I said to her.
9.    ‘Do you write a good hand?’ the teacher said to the student.
10.    ‘Have you anything to say on behalf of the accused?’ said the judge finally.
11.    ‘Have you anything to tell me, little bird?’ asked Ulysses.
12.    ‘Who are you, sir, and what do you want?’ they asked.
13.    The king was impressed with the magician and asked, ‘What can I do for you?’
14.    She asked, ‘What is it that makes you stronger and braver than other men?’
15.    ‘Can you solve this problem?’ he asked me.

Answers

1.    She asked him what he wanted.
2.    He asked me if I was coming/going with them.
3.    He enquired when I/he/she intended to make the payment.
4.    The prince asked the girl if she came from China.
5.    The poor man exclaimed whether none of them would help him.
6.    The little girl asked which way she should go.
7.    Alladin asked the magician what he had done to deserve so severe a punishment.
8.    I asked her whether she did not know the way home.
9.    The teacher asked the student if he/she wrote a good hand.
10.    The judge finally asked whether he/she had anything to say on behalf of the accused.
11.    Ulysses asked the little bird whether it had anything to tell him.
12.    They asked who he was and what he wanted.
13.    The king was impressed with the magician and asked what he could do for him.
14.    She asked him what was it that made him stronger and braver than other men.
15.    He asked me if I could solve that problem.

Interrogative Part II

Direct: The Father said, ‘Son, did I not ask you to study hard?’
Indirect: The father enquired of his son if he had not asked him to study hard.
Direct: My father said to me, ‘Where were you last night?’
Indirect: My father demanded of me where I had been the previous night.
Direct: She said, ‘Friend, will you wait for a moment?’
Indirect: She asked her friend if she would wait for a moment.

Interrogative sentences beginning with a question word

When a question begins with a question word such as what, who, whom, when, where, why, how etc., the same word is used to introduce the question in the indirect speech. In other words, the question word becomes the joining word instead of that, if or whether.

Direct: Viola said to Rosalind, ‘Where are you going?’
Indirect: Viola asked Rosalind where she was going.
Direct: The teacher asked the new comer, ‘What is your name?’
Indirect: The teacher asked the new comer what his name was.
Direct: The wolf said to the lamps, ‘Why are you all so sad?’
Indirect: The wolf asked the lamps why they were all so sad.
Direct: The mother said to her daughter, ‘Dear, how have you fared in the examination?’
Indirect: The mother asked her daughter lovingly how she had fared in the examination.
Direct: The shopkeeper said to me, ‘Which bag do you want?’
Indirect: The shopkeeper asked me which bag I wanted.
Direct: She said to him, ‘Why are you disturbing me?’
Indirect: She asked him why he was disturbing her.
Direct: I said to the boys, ‘Who teaches you English?’
Indirect: I asked the boys who taught them English.
Direct: John said to Mary, ‘What are you doing?’
Indirect: John asked Mary what she was doing.
Direct: The old man said to himself, ‘Why did I come here?’
Indirect: The old man asked himself why he had come there.

3:      Imperative Sentences

Imperative sentences do not normally have an expressed subject. This is because the subject ‘you’ is usually understood. As a result of this, imperative sentences begin with a verb in the simple present tense.

An imperative sentence expresses ideas such as advice, order, request, suggestion, instruction, permission, allowance etc.

In order to change an imperative sentence into the indirect speech, we use a to-infinitive. A –that clause is also possible in some cases. Note that instead of ‘said’ we use one of the following reporting verbs:

Advise, command, request, suggest, threaten, order, forbid, decree, propose, entreat, prompt, counsel, pardon, beg, persuade, instruct etc.

Notes:

After suggest, we use a –that clause and not an infinitive.
The verb propose is not followed by an object.
The verb forbid itself conveys a negative sense. Therefore, we do not use not in the following clause.

Study the following examples carefully.

Direct: The old woman said to the boy, ‘Please help me.’
Indirect: The old woman requested the boy to help her.
Direct: I said to him, ‘Love and obey your parents.’
Indirect: I advised him to love and obey his parents. OR I advised that he should love and obey his parents.
Direct: The teacher said to the students, ‘Work hard.’
Indirect: The teacher advised the boys to work hard. OR The teacher suggested that the boys should work hard.
Direct: The doctor said to the patient, ‘Quit smoking.’
Indirect: The doctor advised the patient to quit smoking. OR The doctor suggested that the patient should quit smoking.
Direct: The officer said to the clerk, ‘Do it immediately.’
Indirect: The officer ordered the clerk to do it immediately.
Direct: The teacher said to the boy, ‘Come in, please.’
Indirect: The teacher allowed (or asked) the boy to come in.
Direct: He said to me, ‘Post this letter at once.’
Indirect: He ordered me to post that letter at once.
Direct: I said to the children, ‘Do not make a noise.’
Indirect: I forbade the children to make a noise. (NOT I forbade the children not to make a noise.)
Direct: I said to her, ‘Don’t mention his name.’
Indirect: I forbade her to mention his name.
Direct: I said to the child, ‘Do not look down into the well.’
Indirect: I warned the child not to look down into the well.
Direct: He said to me, ‘Wait here till I return.’
Indirect: He asked me to wait there till he returned.

Indirect: He said that he was unwell 

4:      Optative Sentences

It is sentence that indicates a wish, pray or desire.

If the reported speech begins with the word “may”, we change the reporting verb into prayed.

She said, “May my son stand first in the class!”

She prayed that her son might stand first in the class.

He said to them, “May you catch the train today!”

He prayed for them that they might catch the train that day.

They said. “May the police arrest the thieves!”

They prayed that police might arrest the thieves.

If the reported speech begins with the word “would”, we change the reporting verb into wished.

Mother said to me, “Would that your father were here today!”

Mother wished that my father had been there that day

The teacher said to the students, “Would that I were on leave today!”

The teacher wished that he had been on leave that day.

He said, “Would that I were rich!”

He wished that he had been rich.

5:      Exclamatory Sentences

In reporting exclamations the indirect speech is introduced by some verb expressing exclamation.

He said, “Alas! My brother has met an accident.”

He exclaimed with great sorrow that his brother had met with an accident.

He said, “Alas! I am undone.”

He exclaimed sadly that he was undone.

He said, “Bravo! You have done well.”

He applauded him, saying that he had done well.

They said to us, “Hurrah! We have defeated your team.”

They exclaimed with great joy that they had defeated our team.

We said, “How old this woman is!”

We said in great surprise that that woman was very old.

Ali said, “How clever I am!”

Ali exclaimed that he was very clever.

35 responses »

  1. ahmad says:

    nice and clear enough.

  2. Romain Lob says:

    Thank you so much from a French student. You helped me a lot.

  3. Saadi Hamed says:

    My friend told me to check out your site. its great and complete

  4. Dharshika says:

    VERY INFORMATIVE….

  5. charlene says:

    ala nman..

  6. Adiba says:

    Thnx for all the informations… It really helped me a lot in my homework (y)

  7. Khair ullah bettani says:

    I didn’t leave any stone unturned, but couldn’t come across such an easiness. After having read it, the Herculean task has become the easiest work possible. Thanks.

  8. aditi says:

    Thnx for the help .It helped me to bring good marks in my tests.

  9. shreya says:

    nice but too long

  10. parv says:

    pray for me please

  11. jeemoona47@gmail.com says:

    bht achi information ha gooooooooooood

  12. Roy says:

    very good for the students and the teachers to improve their grammar

  13. deepak.nagpal123@gmail.com says:

    Kudos UoG English !!
    Being a teacher I went though this topic in detail in various books and over few websites. I had been looking for a minute but very important rule/tip, which I had a hunch about but finally got the proof over here!
    Thanks a lot guys, I have an answer to a very valid question which comes to our mind when we study this topic!!

  14. seanamar ignacio says:

    i really understand it thank you
    i can answer now my homework
    (Y) (Y) (Y) (Y)

  15. catisha says:

    I can do my home work much better now

  16. juhi says:

    it is a awesome site for students

  17. I would like you to give us answer to the following issue: What happens with questions for subjects which only have auxiliary verb “be” as the main verb in a question, following by adjectives, nouns, pronouns…etc.
    For example:
    1. Peter asked: “Who is thirsty?” I think that reported sentence is: Peter asked who thirsty was.
    2. David wanted to know: “How many children are there in the park?” (I am not sure if the right reported sentence is: a) David wanted to know how many children THERE WERE in the park. or …b) David wanted to know how many children WERE THERE in the park.
    3. Jane asked:”Which animals in the Zoo are sick?” (a) Jane asked which animals in Zoo sick were. or b) Jane asked which animals in the Zoo were sick. )

    So, I hope you can get my point, Are all of these reported questions EXCEPTIONS of the RULE that reported questions have affirmative word order ? I COULDN’T FIND ANY SOURCE THAT HAS TREATED THIS ISSUE ! I am really looking forward to your quick
    answer, which would finally solve my dilemmas about this important issue.

    • uogenglish says:

      In my opinion, there is no such exception for the affirmative word order rule as for as the affirmative word order is properly followed. This has been done for the sentences marked ‘b’ in your given examples. Moreover, one cannot claim that there is any formula for language structure. The rules described here are just based upon the general patterns/tendencies used by the Native speakers in their language use. As language is a social activity and a meaning making resource, so these so called Rules can be Meaningfully broken. So, if there is confusion regarding the ‘Proper’ or ‘Improper; structure of the sentence, we shall consider ‘Meaning’ as a defining criterion.
      hopefully, you got the answer !

      Regards,

  18. Aastha says:

    I have a little doubt.
    As for the sentence – She said to him,’What is it that makes you so much stronger and braver than any other man?’ Shouldn’t the answer be – She asked him what IT WAS that made him so much stronger and braver than any other man.
    Please do help me out ASAP. Thanks!

  19. Fred says:

    Great… Very helpful… Thanx.

  20. Ali umid says:

    informative!

  21. Ali umid says:

    very informative

  22. kevin says:

    it was a great notes and very clear

  23. Martin Tamba Gbabai says:

    I am deeply impressed with your lesson and i appreciate it so much. I was taught this topic but i was never able to understand. I say once more thank you very much because i have got a clear understanding of the topic through your explanation.

  24. babu says:

    thank u so much for these useful tips.
    is there any topic regarding active passive too.

  25. sakina says:

    thankyou

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