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Indirect and direct speech peculiarities

  • October 31, 2011
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Indirect speech and direct speech are used extensively by journalists as well as fiction and non-fiction writers to convey paraphrased statements and direct quotes. Word for word quotes taken directly from a source are known as direct speech. Direct speech rules require quotes to be enclosed within quotation marks while indirect quotes are paraphrased statements translated into their third-person form.

The first rule when forming indirect quotes is to change all first person pronouns to the appropriate third-person form (he, she, it and they.) The second rule is to change the tense. Indirect quotes go back one tense further than the original quote whether that quote is in the present tense or past tense. For example, Farmer John said, “This is the best season I’ve had” would be translated or paraphrased into an indirect quote: Farmer John said this was the best season he has had.

If a direct quote is already in the past tense, it needs to go back one step further. If Farmer John said, “I graduated from the Farmer’s Academy.” This phrase would become Farmer John said he has graduated from the Farmer’s Academy.

When forming first-person quotes, direct speech punctuation is essential to offset statements and secondary information. Direct quotes should always be enclosed within quotation marks and begin with a capital letter while names and supplemental information should be offset by commas outside the quotation marks. Direct speech punctuation should always be included inside the quotation marks when it modifies a direct quote.

Authors and journalists often interrupt quotes to set a tone for the dialogue or add details. For emphasis, a writer might break up a quote to read: “My job is hard,” complained Farmer John, “and I have to get up early to get all the work done.” Capitalization is only necessary at the beginning of each quote or sentence even if it is broken into two or more parts.

When translating quotes between reported and direct speech, present tense statements become past tense statements that retain their simple, progressive and perfect designations. When translating direct quotes that are already in the past tense, things are a little more complicated. Simple past statements become past perfect and past progressive statements become past perfect progressive, but past perfect quotes that include could and would constructions stay the same. For example, John said he could drop by with some produce this afternoon is the same as John said, “I could drop by with some produce this afternoon.” One exception for direct and indirect speech is information that is always true. For example, “My name is Farmer John” would become he said his name is Farmer John. The tense doesn’t need to be changed.

Practicing indirect speech and direct speech can provide writers and English speakers with the freedom to create any direct or indirect quote. Whether an indirect quote uses rich descriptors or is simply repeating something that has already been said, understanding direct speech rules and the rules for indirect quotes can open a lot of creative doors to express quotes in a meaningful literary or journalistic style.

Have you ever shied away from making reported and direct speech quotes due to the rules and punctuation? You’re welcome share your experiences with indirect speech and direct speech in the comments below.


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