We often convey a message or give information about what someone said, thought or felt to somebody else. In order to do this you can use the grammar structure named direct or quoted speech, or indirect or reported speech. Indeed this structure can be a source of confusion for ESL learners because they mix it with active and passive voice. Read the whole article to know about direct and indirect speech rules.

Direct and Indirect Speech Complete Rules
Direct and Indirect Speech Complete Rules

To learn more about direct and indirect speech click here.

Direct And Indirect Speech Complete Rules

Initially we will look at direct and indirect speech, then look at how to convert speech from direct to indirect or vice-versa.

Direct Speech / Quoted Speech
Saying or quoting exactly what someone has said is called direct speech (sometimes called quoted speech)
Here what a person says appears within quotation marks (“…”) and should be word for word.

  • She said, “Today’s lesson is about direct and indirect speech.” or
  • “Today’s lesson is about direct and indirect speech.”, she said.

Indirect Speech / Reported Speech
Saying or reporting what someone said without quoting his exact words is called indirect speech.
Here we don’t use quotation marks to enclose what the person said and does not have to be word for word.

  • He said that yesterday’s lesson was about direct and indirect speech.

Reporting Verb
The verb in the first part of sentence (i.e. say, said, tell, admit, complain, explain remind, reply think, hope, offer, refuse etc.) before the statement of a person in sentence is called reporting verb.

How to Change Direct Speech into Indirect Speech?

Rule 1. (Adverbs of Time and Place)

If the reported sentence contains an expression of time, you must change it to fit in with the time of reporting, and adverb of nearness should be put into those of distance.

  • Today  => yesterday/ that day
  • This evening  => that evening
  • These (days)  => those (days)
  • Now  => then
  • (A week) ago  => (a week) before
  • Last weekend  => the previous weekend
  • Here  => there
  • Here after   => there after
  • Next (week)  => the following (week)/ a week after
  • Tomorrow   => the next/following day
  • Thus  => so
  • Last night  => the previous night
  • Yesterday  => the day before / the previous day
  • Hither  => thither
  • Hence  => thence

Note: If something is said and reported at the same time, then the time expression can remain the same.

  • He told me today, “ I will go to Karachi tomorrow.”
  • He told me today he would go to Karachi tomorrow.
  • She told me this week, “ we gave our exam last week.”
  • She told me this week, they had given their exam last wee.

Rule 2. Tenses

A) If the reporting verb is in present or future (i.e say, says or will say) then don’t change the tense that you can find within the quotation marks.

  • He says,”I was a fool then.”
  • He says that he was a fool then.
  • I will say, “ He loves his mom.”
  • I will say that he loves his mom.

B) If reporting verb is in the past tense. the tense of the verbs in the reported speech or indirect speech must be generally changed. This is because when we use reported speech, we are usually talking about a time in the past (because obviously the person who spoke originally spoke in the past). The verbs therefore usually have to be in the past too.

  • He said,”I am going to the cinema.”
  • He said he was going to the cinema.

Tense Change
As a rule when you report something someone has said you go back a tense.
Present Simple › Past simple

  • She said, ”it is cold,”   
  • She said it was cold.

Present continuous › Past continuous 

  • She said, “I’m teaching Math online.”
  • She said she was teaching Math online.

Present perfect › Past perfect 

  • She said, “I’ve lived in Pakistan since 1999.” 
  • She said she had lived in Pakistan since 1999.

Present perfect continuous › Past perfect continuous 

  • She said, “I’ve been teaching English for seven years.” 
  • She said she had been teaching English for seven years.

Past simple › Past perfect 

  • She said, “I taught active and passive yesterday.”
  • She said she had taught active and passive yesterday.

Past continuous › Past perfect continuous

  • She said, “I was teaching the lesson.”  
  • She said she had been teaching the lesson.

Past perfect › Past perfect 

  • She said, “The lesson had already started when he arrived.”
  • NO CHANGE – She said the lesson had already started when he arrived.

Past perfect continuous  › Past perfect continuous 

  • She said, “I’d already been teaching for five minutes.”
  • NO CHANGE – She said she’d already been teaching for five minutes.

Modal verb forms also sometimes change:
Will › would 

  • She said, “I’ll teach English online tomorrow.”
  • She said she would teach English online tomorrow.

Can › could 

  • She said, “I can teach English online.” 
  • She said she could teach English online.

Must ›  had to 

  • She said, “I must have a computer to teach English online.”
  • She said she had to have a computer to teach English online.

Shall › › should/ would

  • She said, “What shall we learn today?” 
  • She asked what we should learn today.
  • He said, ”I shall appreciate it.”
  • He said he would appreciate it.

May › might 

  • She said, “May I open a new browser?” 
  • She asked if she might open a new browser.

Note – There is no change to; could, would, should, might and ought to.

  • “I might go to the cinema”, he said.
  • He said he might go to the cinema.

Rule 3. (After wish, would rather, had better , it is time)

  • Ali said, ”I wish they were in Pakistan.”
  • Ali said he wished they were in Pakistan.
  • Hussain said, “ I would rather fly.”
  • Hussain said he would rather fly.
  • Zahra said, ” they had better go.”
  • Zahra said they had better go.
  • Ahmed said, “It is time I got up.”
  • Ahmed said it was time he got up.

Rule 4.

If indirect speech the words within quotation marks talk of a universal truth or habitual action or when a sentence is made and reported at the same time and the fact is still true then the tense inside the quotation marks is not changed at all.

  • He said,”My name is Ali.”
  • He said his name was Ali Or He said his name is Ali.
  • The teacher said,” the sun rises in the east.”
  • The teacher said that the sun rises in the east.
  • Shazia said, “ I am thirsty.” 
  • Shazia said she is thirsty.

Rule 5.

You can also use the present tense if you are talking about a future event.

  • She said,”next week’s lesson is on reported speech.”
  • She said next week’s lesson will be on reported speech.

Rule 6. (Pronouns)

We have to change the pronouns to keep the same meaning of a sentence.

  • Ali said, “ We are the best players.”
  • Ali said they were the best players.

Note: Sometimes we have to use a noun instead of a pronoun, otherwise the new sentence is confusing consider the examples below:

  • Mohammad said, “He killed them.”
  • Mohammad said that the man had killed them.

(If we only make mechanical changes, then the new sentence can have different meaning)

  • Mohammad said he had killed them. (Mohammad himself killed them)

Rule 7. Reported Speech In If-Clauses.

  • Hussain: “If I tidied my room, my dad would be happy.”
  • Hussain said that if he tidied his room, his dad would be happy.
  • Teacher: “If you concentrate, you will learn about direct and indirect speech.”
  • Teacher said if we concentrate we would learn about direct and indirect speech.

Rule 8. Reported Speech of Time-Clauses.

  • Ali: “When I was staying in Quetta I met my best friend.” –
  • He said that when he was staying in Quetta he met his best friend.

Rule 9. Reported Speech of Interrogative Sentences 
1. Remove the quotation marks and question mark in the interrogative sentence.
2. Use ‘if’ or ‘whether’ if the sentence inside the quotation marks begins with a helping verb (Auxiliary verb).
3. Use the given interrogative word (what, when, where, why, who, whom, whose, which, now etc.) if it does not begin with the helping verb.
4. Don‘t use ‘that’
5. Changing the reporting verb (say, said) into ‘ask, want to know wonder or inquire’ in its correct tense.
6. Omit helping verb like ‘do, does, did’. But don’t omit them when they are with ‘not’.

  • Said I to my teacher,” won’t you help me to learn about direct and indirect speech complete rules?”
  • I asked my teacher if he would not help me to learn about direct and indirect speech complete rules.
  • “ How often do you go to the cinema?” Ali said to Ahmed,
  • Ali asked Ahmed how often he went to the cinema.
  • “Where have you been?” he said. 
  • He asked me where I had been.
  • “What time did it start?” he said. 
  • He wanted to know what time it had started.
  • “Why won’t he do it?” she said.
  • She wondered why he wouldn’t do it.

Rule 10. Reported Speech of Yes/ No Questions

In yes/no questions we use if or whether in questions. If is more common and whether is more formal.

  • “Will you go?” she asked me.
  • She asked me if/whether I would go.
  • “Did he buy a car?” she said.
  •  She wondered if/whether he had bought a car.

Rule 11. Reported Speech of Commands and Requests 

1. Remove the quotation mark in an Imperative sentence.
2. Use ‘to’ if it is an affirmative sentence. (without don‘t)
3. Use ‘not to’ if the sentence begins without Don‘t.
4. Don‘t use ‘that’
5. Omit the word ‘please’. Use the word ‘request’ instead of ‘say’.
6. If the direct speech contains a request or a command, the reporting verb (say, said) change to tell, request, order, command etc. in its correct tense.
7. The commands, requests and advice mostly have the same form in English: verb + object + infinitive (advise, ask, beg, forbid, order, persuade, recommend, tell, urge, warn etc.).

  • “Get up!” he said.
  •  He warned me to get up.
  • “Please, revise for the test,” he said.
  •  He  requested me to revise for the test.
  • “Bring me a cup of tea” said Zahra to Sara.
  • Zahrs asked Sara to bring her a cup of tea.

Negative: + object + not + infinitive.

  • “Don’t hesitate,” he said.
  • He persuaded me not to hesitate.
  • “Don’t smoke,” the doctor warned my father.
  • The doctor warned my father not to smoke.

Rule 12. Reported Speech of Advice
If it contains advice the reporting verb changes into advised.

  • “Put on your coat,” I said.
  • I advised him to put on his coat.

Rule 13. Reported Speech of Exclamatory Sentences

1. Change the exclamatory sentence into statement or assertive
2. Remove the quotation marks and exclamatory mark.
3. Use the conjunction ‘that’
4. Omit the interjections such as Oh, O, Alas, how, what, hurrah.
5. Add the word ‘very’ to the adjective or adverb if necessary.
6. If the verb is not given, use ‘Be’ form verb (is, was, are, were, am) in its correct tense according to the subject.
7. Change the reporting verb (say, said) to ‘exclaim joyfully’
8. Use ‘exclaim’ sorrowfully for sorrowful incidents.

  • She said ,” Wow, What a beautiful car that is!”
  • She exclaimed joyfully that was a verb beautiful car.
  • He said,” Alas! I have missed the paper.”
  • He exclaimed sorrowfully that he had missed the paper.

Rule 14. Use of ‘That’ in Reported Speech

In reported speech, the word that is often used, however it is optional. We recommend you no to use it because in some cases we don’t use ‘That’ in reported speech like: question, command request and order, so its better not to use it.

  • He told me that he lived in Hazara Town.
  • He told me he lived in Hazara Town.

Rule 15. Punctuation in Direct Speech

In direct speech, various punctuation conventions are used to separate the quoted words from the rest of the text: this allows a reader to follow what’s going on. Here are the basic rules:
A)We use inverted commas (also called quotation marks, quotes or speech marks) to indicate direct speech. Double quotes (“) are preferred in American English, while single quotes (‘) are more common in British English:

  • “I’m coming home late tonight,” she said. (American English)
  • ‘I’m coming home late tonight,’ she said. (British English)

B) Every time a new speakers says something, you should start a new paragraph:

  • “They think it’s a more respectable job,” said Ali.
  • “I don’t agree,” I replied.

C) There should be a comma, full stop, question mark, or exclamation mark at the end of a piece of speech. This is placed inside the closing inverted comma or commas.

  • He asked, “ Can I go outside?”
  • She shouted, “ Sit down!”
  • We said, “ They are wrong.”

D) If the direct speech is broken up by information about who is speaking, you need a comma (or a question mark or exclamation mark) to end the first piece of speech and a full stop or another comma before the second piece (before the inverted comma or commas):

  • “You’re right,” he said. “It feels strange.”
  • “Thinking back,” she said, “he didn’t expect to win.”
  • “No!” he cried. “You can’t leave now!”

Conclusion:
I hope that the points that I have mentioned above about direct and indirect speech may prove beneficial for people learning English. All you need to do is to understand the crucial rules of direct and indirect speech, and don’t mix it with passive and active voice. To learn more about direct and indirect speech click here.