Important Difference Between Direct and Indirect Speech

There exist only two options when we need to convey other people’s words. They are direct and indirect speech. The former can be also referred to as quoted speech, while the latter bears such names as reported speech and indirect discourse. Unfortunately, the use of direct and indirect speech often becomes a source of typical grammatical errors in a piece of writing. To master this grammar issue you should get the hang of the main distinctions between direct and indirect speech.

While the general meaning of sentences remains the same regardless of your choice – direct or indirect speech, their structure visibly differs in these two cases. We will examine each case separately. We will also dwell on the prevailing trends of their usage because direct and indirect speech have their own “natural habitats” in written materials.

Sentences with directs speech

This method helps to spread somebody’s phrases word for word. Direct speech preserves accuracy in both style and content of a statement.


Sentences with directs speech consist of two parts: the speech per se and the author’s commentary that introduces it. It is not important in which order they are presented, but the punctuation may slightly differ. In both cases the citation is placed within the quotation marks with no space character separating them. The punctuation mark that finishes the cited words (a period, a comma, an exclamation/question mark) must be put before the closing quotation mark. Now look at these two examples:

  • Martha said, “I study Hindi.”
  • I study Hindi,” Martha said.

Their meaning is identical. In both cases a comma separates the author’s and the speaker’s words. In the first sentence it is also appropriate (although not common) to use a colon:

  • Martha said: “I study Hindi.”


Different types of writing require the preference of a certain way of conveying other people’s phrases. Direct speech is usually the best option for quoting famous people: politicians, singers, actors, writers and so on. Public loves reading their thoughts exactly as they were expressed because it gives a certain sense of closeness to a person you adore. That is why you will definitely come across quoted speech while reading news articles. The same rule applies to academic papers. You need to be as close to the original source as it is possible not to mess up with somebody else’s ideas, and direct speech is a perfect way of getting things right.

Novelists also prefer direct speech to indirect discourse because books are meant to intrigue the readers with action, whereas bulky sentences loaded with indirect speech will not contribute to the plot development.

Sentences with indirect speech

In these sentences the author’s words always go first. They introduce the source of the original phrase and bear the information about its emotional nuances. Taking into consideration the context, you can use various verbs to introduce indirect speech, the most common of them being to say, to ask, to confess, to tell, to repeat, to whisper, to state, to promise, to exclaim, to wonder etc. You can either put or omit the word that after them:

  • Martha says (that) she studies Hindi.

Both grammatical and lexical changes occur in the process of transforming direct speech into indirect discourse.

Lexical changes

First of all, you should change the pronouns used in the reported speech according to their connection to the author:

  • I left my book on the table,” said Mary. → Mary said she left her book on the table.

Second, when the author’s comment is in one of the past tenses, then words referring to the time and place in reported speech undergo next changes:

  • now → then
  • today/tonight → that day/night
  • yesterday → the day before
  • tomorrow → the next day / the following day
  • next (year) → the following (year)
  • last (year) → the previous (year)
  • here → there
  • this/these → that/those

Here are several examples:

  • Phillip said, “I watched this movie yesterday.” → Phillip said that he had watched that movie the day before.
  • I was here last week!” remembered Angela. → Angela remembered that she had been there the previous week.

Grammatical changes

  1. You should adjust the phrase tense to the tense of the author’s remark. In the world of linguistics it is called sequence of tenses. It does not take place when the author’s comment is in a future or present tense – a natural sequence occurs. But when the author’s words are given in the past, you should stick to the following instructions in order to achieve an attracted sequence:
  • Ann notices, “July’s hair looks chic.” → Ann notices that July’s hair looks chic.
  • Ann noticed, “July’s hair looks chic.” → Ann noticed that July’s hair looked chic.

Here is the list of shifts in tenses in case the author’s words are in the past:

  • present simple/perfect/continuous/ → past simple/perfect/continuous
  • past simple/continuous → past perfect/perfect continuous
  • future simple/perfect/continuous → future simple/perfect/continuous in the past

Past perfect stays the same, and so does past perfect continuous. Modal verbs assume their past form if they have one (will → would, can → could, may → might etc.) or stay the same otherwise (should, might, ought to and so on).


  • The accountant said, “I will gladly promote my assistant.” → The accountant said that he would gladly promote his assistant.
  • My mother used to repeat, “I should do the housework.” → My mother used to repeat that she should do the housework.
  1. Imperative sentences require the use of infinitive in indirect speech:
  • The boy told me, “(Do not) Come closer.” → The boy told me (not to) come closer.
  1. Indirect questions are formed either with if/whether (yes-no questions) or with WH-words (WH-questions). The word order changes into direct:
  • She asked me, “Are you an architect?” → She asked me whether I was an architect.
  • He wondered, “Where does Santa Claus live?” → He wondered where Santa Claus lived.


The most widespread usage of sentences based on indirect speech has to do with our everyday communication. It is always preferable to say, for example, Ann told me she had been promoted than trying to pronounce something like Ann told me “I was promoted.” trying to express Ann’s intonation and to copy her voice. That would be just ridiculous!

As for the use of indirect speech in the written form, you will often encounter it in messaging: both in business correspondence and in private chats. It is hard to remember somebody’s words precisely when you send a quick message, which results in resorting to reported speech.

While direct speech is quite easy for understanding, sentences with indirect speech present real difficulties in the process of writing, causing numerous mistakes in works. You should pay attention to all the lexical and grammatical changes that occur in this case. What is more, do not disregard quality editing, which is a firm guarantee of getting a wonderful piece of writing, especially when your academic papers are at stake.