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quotations: indirect (reported) speech

Another way of reproducing someone else’s words without repeating them exactly is through indirect or reported speech.

In indirect speech, no quotation marks are used. Instead, the quotation is introduced with the word that. By using a reporting verb (said, stated, exclaimed, declared, etc.) and shifting tenses as required, you can integrate the original speaker’s statement grammatically into the new sentence:

  • Direct: The Minister said, “Prospects for growth are not good.”
  • Indirect: The Minister said that prospects for growth were not
    good.

Changing adjectives and adverbs

In indirect speech, adverbs and adjectives expressing nearness in place or time (here, this, now, next, etc.) become the corresponding adverbs or adjectives of remoteness (there, that, then, the following, etc.)

Changing verb tenses

In the above example, the verb in the subordinate clause shifts from the present tense of direct speech (are) to the past tense (were) in keeping with the rules of tense sequence.

Likewise, a verb that was in the future tense in direct speech often takes the conditional form in indirect speech.

  • Direct: The Minister said, "There will be no growth for some
    time."
  • Indirect: The Minister said that there would be no growth for
    some time.

However, if the actions or situations referred to are still current or future at the time of quotation, the present and future tenses are retained and demonstratives are not changed:

  • Direct: The Minister said, "There will be no growth
    this year."
  • Indirect (same year): The Minister said that there will be no
    growth this year.
  • Indirect (later year): The Minister said that there would be no
    growth in that year.

More examples

The examples below show the changes to be made in verb tenses (along with pronouns and modifiers) when direct speech is converted to indirect speech:

Simple present to simple past

  • Direct: “I hate this film,” she said.
  • Indirect: She said that she hated that film.

Present progressive to past progressive

  • Direct: “I’m watching the fireworks,” he said.
  • Indirect: He said that he was watching the fireworks.

Present perfect to past perfect

  • Direct: “I’ve found a new job,” she said.
  • Indirect: She said that she had found a new job.

Present perfect progressive to past perfect progressive

  • Direct: He said, "I’ve been running around all day."
  • Indirect: He said that he had been running around all day.

Simple past to past perfect

  • Direct: "I saw Maria in Saskatoon last Saturday," he said.
  • Indirect: He said that he had seen Maria in Saskatoon the
    previous
    Saturday.

Simple future to conditional

  • Direct: She said, "I’ll be in Nova Scotia by Friday."
  • Indirect: She said that she would be in Nova Scotia by Friday.

Future progressive to conditional progressive

  • Direct: "I’ll be needing the car on the fifteenth," Paul said.
  • Indirect: Paul said that he would be needing the car on the
    fifteenth.

Conditional retained

  • Direct: "I would really like to go," he said.
  • Indirect: He said that he would really like to go.

Blending direct and indirect speech

Alternatively, a blend of direct and indirect speech may be preferred when a particular part of the original statement is to be highlighted:

  • Direct: The Minister said, “Prospects for growth are not good. Governments are becoming increasingly worried about large spending deficits.”
  • Blend: The Minister said that prospects for growth were not good and that "governments [were] becoming increasingly worried about large spending deficits."

In the blended sentence, because the verb (were) in the first subordinate clause is in the past tense, the tense of the verb within the direct quotation must be changed from are becoming to were becoming, for consistency. But because the speaker did not actually use the past tense, the editorial change to the verb in the direct quotation has to be indicated by means of square brackets.