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Direct and Indirect Speech – What’s the Difference?

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When you’re using English on a day to day basis, talking about what people are saying or might have told you is going to come up a lot!

But there’s an art to it – read on to find out more about how to use direct and indirect forms of speech correctly.

What’s the difference between direct and indirect speech?

Both terms describe a way of recounting something that may have been said – but there is a subtle difference between them.

Direct speech describes when something is being repeated exactly as it was – usually in between a pair of inverted commas. For example:

She told me, “I’ll come home by 10pm.”

Indirect speech will still share the same information – but instead of expressing someone’s comments or speech by directly repeating them, it involves reporting or describing what was said. An obvious difference is that with indirect speech, you won’t use inverted commas. For example:

She said to me that she would come home by 10pm.

Let’s take a closer look at each one!

Direct speech

Direct speech can be used in virtually every tense in English. You can use it to describe something in the present tense – to express something that is happening in the present moment, or make it feel like it is happening right now.

For example:

“While she’s on the phone, she’s saying to him, “I’m never going to talk to you again.”

You can also use direct speech in the past and future tenses. You’ll often come across direct speech in the past tense to describe something that has already happened. Most written forms of English will use direct speech in this way.

For example:

“He said to her, “I’ll catch the last train home.”

Direct speech can be used in the future tense too, to create a feeling of anticipation, or expectation. It can also be used to express something that you plan to say to someone.

While you might not come across this in formal or professional forms of written English, you will probably see this commonly in creative forms of writing, such as a story or novel.

For example:

Before I go away I’ll tell him, “I’m never coming back.”

Direct speech isn’t always a description of what someone may have spoken. You can also quote from other texts in a similar way, by using inverted commas before and after the quote. Here, instead of using the verb “to say”, you might want to use a different verb instead, such as “to write”, “to state” or “to describe”.

Indirect speech

Indirect speech is used to report what someone may have said, and so it is always used in the past tense. Instead of using inverted commas, we can show that someone’s speech is being described by using the word “that” to introduce the statement first.

For example:

“She said that she was not hungry.”

You can use different verbs to express what is being reported – while “to say” is quite commonly used, you might also want to use “to tell”, to describe something that has been told to you.

For example:

“He told me that he didn’t have enough money.”

Your turn

You’ll want to use both direct and indirect speech a lot when you use English – so make sure that you are familiar with both of them, and can use them correctly!

One effective way to practice is by keeping a little diary of what has been said around you – describe what people have said, and try to write a few examples in each form.