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How to Use Direct and Indirect Speech

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Did someone tell you a great story you want to share?

Do you need to confirm what someone said to you?

There are lots of reasons why you might want to report speech in English – and the most common way of doing it is by using direct and indirect speech. Read on to find out how to use these!

Using direct speech

Using direct speech means repeating the spoken phrase or word exactly as it was said. You can use this to repeat something that was said in the past – but you can also use it to express something being said in the present, too.

When used in written English, you must place the direct speech in inverted commas (“ “) at the beginning and end of the piece of speech.  You will also need to use a verb such as “to say” or “to tell”, to describe the moment of speech.

For example:

She said, “I have never stayed in that hotel in my life.”

My mother keeps saying “I don’t know” over and over again.

An important point to note is that when you are describing multiple speakers, each person’s speech starts on a new line – even if it is just a short word or phrase.

For example:

He asked her, “Do you want to go to dinner?”

She said, “No.”

The direct speech can come before or after the pronoun and verb, and in some cases, you can even leave it out entirely. This is common in written English where there is a long conversation being described and it is obvious who is saying what.

For example:

My mother asked him, “How long have you known each other?”

“Five years,” he told her.

“And what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a taxi driver,” he said.

Using indirect speech

Indirect or reported speech is used to describe speech that happened in the past, where you are recounting something that was said to you before.

Because of this, you only ever use indirect speech in the past tense – and never in the present tense.

To construct indirect speech, you usually use reporting verbs like “to ask”, “to say” and “to tell”, and you may often include the word “that” to describe what was said.

For example:

“My mother said that he had not come back in months.”

“She told him that he had to stop calling her.”

“He asked for her new address.”

Indirect speech does not use the exact words that were originally spoken – instead, you will usually give a summary and the key message of what was said. Another important point to note is that you do not use inverted commas to describe the speech in indirect speech.

Your turn

Try describing different conversations that you have had recently. Use both types of speech and see how they differ. Does it create a different impact to use direct speech, or does it change how people understand you when you use indirect speech?