English Grammar

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Direct and Indirect Speech


We may report the words of a speaker in two ways :
1. We may quote his actual words. This is called Direct Speech.
2. We may report what he said without quoting his exact words. This is called Indirect Speech.

Direct. Rama said, 'I am very busy now'.
Indirect. Rama said that he was very busy then.

It will be noticed that in Direct speech, we use inverted commas to mark off the exact words of the speaker. In Indirect Speech we do not.
It will be further noticed that in changing the above Direct Speech into Indirect certain changes have been made. Thus :
1. We have used the conjunction that before the Indirect statement.
2. The pronoun I is changed to he. (The Pronoun is changed in Person.)
3. The verb am is changed to was. (Present Tense is changed to Past.)
4. The adverb now is changed to then.

Rules for Changing Direct Speech into Indirect

When the reporting or principal verb is in the Past Tense, all Present tense of the Direct are changed into the corresponding Past Tenses. Thus :
(a) A simple present becomes a simple past.
Direct. He said, 'I am unwell.'
Indirect. He said (that) he was unwell.
(b) A present continuous becomes a past continuous
Direct. He said, 'My master is writing letters.'
Indirect. He said (that) his master was writing letters.
(c) A present perfect becomes a past perfect
Direct. He said, 'I have passed the examination.'
Indirect. He said (that) he had passed the examination.

Note :The shall of the Future Tense is changed into should.

The will of the Future Tense is changed into would or should.
As a rule, the simple past in the Direct becomes the past perfect in the Indirect.
Direct. He said, 'The horse died in the night.'
Indirect. He said that the horse had died in the night.

The tenses may not change if the statement is still relevant or if it is a universal truth. We can often choose whether to keep the original tenses or change them.
Direct. 'I know her address,' said Gopi.
Indirect. Gopi said he knows/knew her address.
Direct. The teacher said, 'The earth goes round the sun.'
Indirect. The teacher said the earth goes/went round the sun.
Direct. 'German is easy to learn', she said.
Indirect. She said German is/was easy to learn.
The past tense is often used when it is uncertain if the statement is true or when we are reporting objectively.

If the reporting verb is in the Present Tens, the tense of the Direct Speech do not change. For example, we may rewrite the above examples, putting the reporting verb in the Present Tense, Thus :
He says he is unwell.
He has just said his master is writing letters.
He says he has passed the examination.
He says the horse died in the night.

The pronouns of the Direct Speech are changed, where necessary, so that their relations with the reporter and his hearer, rather than with the original speaker, are indicated. Observe the following examples.
Direct. He said to me, 'I don't believe you.'
Indirect. He said he didn't believe me.
Direct. She said to him, 'I don't believe you.'
Indirect. She said she didn't believe him.
Direct. I said to him, 'I don't believe you.'
Indirect. I said I didn't believe him.
Direct. I said to you, 'I don't believe you.'
Indirect. I said I didn't believe you.

Similarly, this and these are changed to that and those unless the thing pointed out is near at hand at the time of reporting the speech.


In reporting questions the Indirect Speech is introduced by some such verbs as asked, inquired, etc.
When the question is not introduced by an interrogative word, the reporting verb is followed by whether or if.
Direct. He said to me, 'What are you doing ?'
Indirect. He asked me what I was doing.
Direct. 'Where do you live ?' asked the stranger.
Indirect. The stranger enquired where I lived.
Direct. The policeman said to us, 'Where are you going ?'
Indirect. The policeman enquired where we were going.
Direct. He said, 'Will you listen to such a man ?'
Indirect. He asked them whether they would listen to such a man.
Direct. 'Do you suppose you know better than your own father ?' jeered his angry mother.
Indirect. His angry mother jeered and asked whether he supposed that he knew better than his own father.

Commands and Requests

In reporting commands and requests, the Indirect Speech is introduced by some verb expressing command or request, and the imperative mood is changed into the Infinitive.
Direct. Karan said to Arjun, 'Go away.'
Indirect. Karan ordered to Arjun to go away.
Direct. He said to him, 'Please wait here till I return'.
Indirect. He requested him to wait there till he returned.
Direct. 'Call the first witness,' said the judge.
Indirect. The judge commanded them to call the first witness.
Direct. He shouted, 'Let me go.'
Indirect. He shouted to them to let him go.
Direct. He said, 'Be quiet and listen to my words.'
Indirect. He urged them to be quiet and listen to his words.

Exclamations and Wishes

In reporting exclamations and wishes, the Indirect Speech is introduced by some verb expressing exclamation or wish
Direct. He said, 'Alas ! I am undone.'
Indirect. He exclaimed sadly that he was undone.
Direct. Alice said, 'How clever I am !'
Indirect. Alice exclaimed that she was very clever.
Direct. He said, 'Bravo ! You have done well.'
Indirect. He applauded him, saying that he had done well.
Direct. 'So help him, Heaven !' he cried, 'I will never steal again.'
Indirect. He called upon Heaven to witness his resolve never to steal again.

Conversion of Indirect into Direct

The conversion of Indirect into Direct generally presents no special difficulties, as the following examples will show.
Indirect. He inquired whether his name was not Ankur.
Direct. He said to him, 'Is your name not Ankur ?'
Indirect. As the stranger entered the town, he was met by a policeman, who asked him if he was a traveller. He replied carelessly that it would appear so.
Direct. As the stranger entered the town, he was met by a policeman, who asked, 'Are you a traveller ?' 'So it would appear,' he answered carelessly.
Indirect. She asked how she, a girl, who could not ride or use sword or lance, could be of any help. Rather would she stay at home and spin beside her dear mother.
Direct. She said, 'How can I, a girl, who cannot ride or use sword or lance, be of any help ? Rather would I stay at home and spin beside my dear mother.

Study the following examples, and in each case carefully note the changes made while turning from Direct into Indirect Speech.

Direct. The John said, 'It gives me great pleasure to be here this evening.
Indirect. The john said that it gave him great pleasure to be there that evening.
Direct. He said, 'I shall go as soon as it is possible.'
Indirect. He said that he would go as soon as it was possible.
Direct. He said, 'I do not wish to see any of you; go away.'
Indirect. He said that he did not wish to see any of them and ordered them to go away.
Direct. My teacher often says to me, 'If you don't work hard, you will fail.'
Indirect. My teacher often says to me that if I don't work hard I shall fail.
Direct. He said, 'We are all sinners.'
Indirect. He said that we are all sinners.
Direct. The lecturer said, 'Akbar won the respect of all races and classes by his justice.'
Indirect. The lecturer said that Akbar won the respect of all races and classes by his justice.
Direct. He said, 'Let us wait for the award.'
Indirect. He proposed that they should wait for the award.
Direct. 'Saint George strike for us !' exclaimed the Knight, 'don the false yeomen give way ?'
Indirect. The Knight prayed that Saint George might strike for them and asked whether the false yeomen gave way.
Direct. 'Curse it !' exclaimed the driver. 'Who could have foreseen such ill-luck ? But for accident we should have caught the train easily.
Indirect. The driver exclaimed with an oath that nobody could have foreseen such ill-luck. But for the accident they would have caught the train easily.
Direct. The traveller said, 'Can you tell me the way to the nearest inn ?' 'Yes,' said the peasant, 'do you want one in which you can spend the night ?' 'No,' replied the traveller, 'I only want a meal.'
Indirect. The traveller asked the peasant if he could tell him the way to the nearest inn. The peasant replied that he could, and asked whether the traveller wanted one in which he could spend the night. The traveller answered that he did not wish to stay there, but only wanted a meal.
Remark- It will be noticed that we have avoided the ugly phrases 'replied in the affirmative' and 'replied in the negative.'

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