Direct and Indirect speech with examples and explanations

Welcome back, smart brains! This article will help you understand how direct speech and indirect speech (narration) work in the English language. What is a direct speech? What is an indirect speech? Why and how do we use direct and indirect speech? How to change direct speech to indirect speech? Going forward, we will know the answers to all these questions.

Whenever someone tells you something or shares something with you, there are two ways to narrate what the person said:

  1. Direct speech
  2. Indirect Speech

Let’s suppose you go to a mobile shop to buy a specific mobile phone. On reaching, one of the executives says, “We don’t have this phone.” You go back home. Your elder brother wants to know what happened. There are two ways to convey what the executive said to you.

Direct speech: One of the executives said, “We don’t have this phone.” (Quoting the exact words of the executive)

Indirect speech: One of the executives said that they did not have that phone. (Narrating the executive’s message in your own words)

What is direct speech?

Direct speech definition: It is a way to narrate what someone said using the speaker’s exact words. The reported speech (the speaker’s words) is placed within quotation marks, and it is offset using a comma.

What is indirect speech?

Indirect speech definition: In indirect speech, the original words of the speaker get changed. The pronoun/s, the tense, and the adverbs of time and place in the reported speech (the words of the speaker) get changed. These things, not always but often, are changed as the original message was delivered at some point in time in the past, but we narrate it after some time. That creates a time difference in receiving the message and narrating it to someone. Because of which we have to go back in the past to refer to the right time.

Direct speech: Sandhya said to me, “I love talking to you.”
Indirect speech: Sandhya told me that she loved talking to me.

Note: The conjunction ‘That’ in the indirect speech can be eliminated too. The sentence is still correct without it. 

Indirect speech: Sandhya told me she loved talking to me.

Note: Changing the tense of the reported speech in indirect speech is called back-shifting.

In the above example, when we are reporting the speaker’s words in indirect speech, we are backshifting the time(tense) of the action to further back. We backshift the tense as the speaker’s words might not fall true or be relevant at the time of narrating it to someone.

She loved talking to me at the time of delivering the message, but now, at the time of narrating to someone, this might not fall true. She might not love talking to me now. That is exactly why the tense is backshifted further back in the past to show the accurate time and action.

But when you are narrating the speaker’s message right after it is being said, you don’t need to backshift the tense as there is almost no difference between the time of receiving the speaker’s message and narrating it to someone.

Let’s suppose we were at a party. Sandhya and I were exchanging words. You were right there too. She said, “I love talking to you.” You didn’t hear it. You come to me and ask, “What did she say to you?”

I tell you that she said that she loves talking to me. It is fairly unlikely for her to change her mind in just a few seconds. 😉

Examples of direct and indirect speech

  • Direct speech: She said to me, “It is raining outside.”
  • Indirect speech: She told me that it was raining outside.
  • Direct speech: “I bought my favorite phone yesterday,” he told me with excitement.
  • Indirect speech: He told me with excitement that he had bought his favorite car the previous day.
  • Direct speech: Max said, “This is my school.”
  • Indirect speech: Max said that that was my house. (You are not there in front of the school.)
  • Indirect speech: Max said that this is my house. (You are still there in front of the school.)
Direct and indirect examples
Direct and indirect speech examples

How to change direct speech to indirect speech?

Here are the changes you need to make in order to change a direct speech to indirect speech:

1. Remove quotation marks and the comma from the direct speech.

  • Direct speech: She said to me, “It is raining outside.”
  • Indirect speech: She told me that it was raining outside.

2. Use the conjunction THAT before the reported speech. Its use is optional though.

  • Direct speech: Sandhya said to me, “I love talking to you.”
  • Indirect speech: Sandhya told me that she loved talking to me.
  • Indirect speech: Sandhya told me she loved talking to me.

3. Change the pronoun/s of the reported speech.

The subject (pronoun) of the reported speech (indirect speech) is changed according to the subject or the object of the introductory clause, and its object is changed according to the object of the introductory clause.

According to the subject

  • Direct speech: Sandhya said to me, “I love talking to you.”
  • Indirect speech: Sandhya told me that she loved talking to me.

According to the object

  • Direct speech: The students said to me, “You were teaching amazingly well.”
  • Indirect speech: The students said that I had been teaching amazingly well.

These are some direct and indirect speech rules we need to master!

3.1 Backshift the tense

Original tenses Backshift to the following tenses
Present simple tensePast simple tense
Present continuous tensePast perfect continuous tense
Present perfect tensePast perfect tense
Past simple tensePast perfect tense
Past continuous tensePast perfect continuous tense
Backshift in direct and indirect speech

3.2 Change the adverb of time and place

Adverbs of time and place in the direct speechChange in the indirect speech
Now/justThen
TodayThat day
Yesterday The previous day or the day before
TomorrowThe next day
Last nightThe previous night or the night before
This weekThat week, last week
Next yearThe following year, in 2020
Ago Before
The next day/week/yearThe following day/week/year
Hence Thence
Change in adverbs in direct to indirect speech

How to change direct speech to indirect speech in different tenses?

1. Present simple to past simple tense

When the direct speech is in the Present Simple tense, it is changed to the Past Simple tense in the indirect speech.

Direct indirect speech examples:

  • Direct speech: “I work with the top CEOs of the world,” he boasted.
  • Indirect speech: He boasted that he worked with the top CEOs of the world.
  • Direct speech: Sandhya told me, “You look amazing in this dress.”
  • Indirect speech: Sandhya told me that I looked amazing in that dress.
  • Direct speech: “The sun rises in the east,” my father informed us.
  • Indirect speech: My father informed us that the sun rises in the east.

NOTE: When what’s being said is still valid or related or universal, we don’t backshift the tense. In the third example, we have not changed the tense.

2. Present continuous to past continuous tense

When the direct speech is in the Present Continuous tense, it is changed to the Past Continuous tense in the indirect speech.

Direct indirect speech examples:

  • Direct speech: “You are making a lot of noise,” the teacher said angrily.
  • Indirect speech: The teacher said angrily that we were making a lot of noise.
  • Direct speech: She said, “I am getting married next month.”
  • Indirect speech: She said that I am getting married next month.

NOTE: The next month has not come yet. She narrated the message before the message gets irrelevant.

3. Present perfect tense to past perfect tense

When the direct speech is in the Present Perfect tense, it is changed to the Past Perfect tense in the indirect speech.

Direct indirect speech examples:

  • Direct speech: “I have finished the work,” Max said to me.
  • Indirect speech: Max told me that he had finished the work.
  • Direct speech: She said, “You have not helped me now.”
  • Indirect speech: She said that I had not helped her then.

4. Simple past tense to past perfect tense

When the direct speech is in the Simple Past tense, it is changed to the Past perfect tense in the indirect speech.

Direct indirect speech examples:

  • Direct speech: “We finished the task on time,” he said to me.
  • Indirect speech: He told me that they had finished the task on time.
  • Direct speech: Rahul said to me, “I enjoyed working with you.”
  • Indirect speech: Rahul told me that he had enjoyed working with me.

5. Past continuous tense to past perfect continuous tense

When the direct speech is in the Past Continuous tense, it is changed to the Past Perfect Continuous tense in the indirect speech.

Direct indirect speech examples:

  • Direct speech: The students said to me, “You were teaching amazingly well.”
  • Indirect speech: The students said that I had been teaching amazingly well.
  • Direct speech: “He was sleeping here,” the lady told me.
  • Indirect speech: The lady told me that he had been sleeping here.

Modal auxiliary verbs in direct and indirect speech

Modal verbs in direct speechModal verbs in indirect speech
WillWould
ShallWould
WouldWould
CanCould
CouldCould
MayMight
MightMight
ShouldShould
Modal verbs in Direct and Indirect speech

Examples:-

  • Direct speech: You can’t beat me in a street fight,” He said to me.
  • Indirect speech: He told me that I could not beat him.
  • Direct speech: “We will screw your career,” the company said.
  • Indirect speech: The company said that it would screw my career.
  • Direct speech: “We might visit you tomorrow, “my friends said to him.
  • Indirect speech: My friends said to him that they might visit him the next day.
  • Direct speech: “You may get the Job,” Ronny said to me.
  • Indirect speech: Ronny told me that I might get the job.
  • Direct speech: “I should start working on my communication skills,” He said in frustration.
  • Indirect speech: He said in frustration that he should start working on his communication skills.

Important points:

  1. SAY can’t be followed by an indirect object without the preposition TO. TELL is followed by an indirect object.
  • He said me that I teach amazingly well. (Incorrect)
  • He said to me that I teach amazingly well. (Correct)
  • He told me that I teach amazingly well. (Correct)
  1. Don’t backshift the tense of the reported speech if what’s been said is universally true or is still relevant at the time of narrating it to someone.
  • Direct speech: “He is my father,” Jon informed me.
  • Indirect speech: Jon informed me that he is his father.
  • Direct speech: “We are going to London in 2022,” She said.
  • Indirect speech: She said that they are going to London in 2020. (You are saying it in  2021).
  • Direct speech: Rahul said, “India is a democratic country.”
  • Indirect speech: Rahul said that India is a democratic country.

Hope the article was helpful! Feel free to empower others by sharing it with them. Feel free to ask your question! Here is my youtube video on Narration:

Direct to indirect speech

Click here to learn how to change interrogative sentences into assertive sentences in reported speech!

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