Civic Education

Direct and Indirect Speech

The word ‘reported’ is often used for the second type; but the truth is that we can ‘report’ EITHER by using ‘direct speech’ OR by using ‘indirect speech’. The difference is that with direct speech we reproduce the actual words of a speaker; with indirect speech we do this ‘indirectly’.

Changes involved in direct and indirect speech

Direct SpeechIndirect Speech
Present tensesPast tenses
Past tensesPast perfect tenses
1st/2nd person pronouns3rd person pronouns

Less important changes are that this, these may change to that, thosehere to therenow to thentoday to that day e.t.c

Remember that auxiliaries also have present and past forms

Forms of auxiliaries

Am, isWas
Has, haveHad
Do, doesDid

For must, use had to in the past; ought does not change.

Practice 1

The following sentences containing direct speech are to be changed into indirect speeches

Example: ‘Which of your characters do you take everywhere?’ she asked him

This becomes

She asked him which of his characters he took everywhere

  1. ‘It is not good to get too attached,’ he said.
  2. ‘How have Americans received the book?’ she asked him
  3. ‘As for me, I love my book,’ he said.
  4. ‘As long as people connect with the characters, then I am happy,’ he said.
  5. ‘What are your greatest fears?’ I asked

Now take note of some important points, which are illustrated by the examples.

  1. For direct speech, quote marks (” ” or ‘ ‘ ) are put around the actual words being reported; for direct speech, no quote marks are used.
  2. For both types of speech, various ‘reporting verbs’ can be used. The most common ones are say and ask; others are tell, reply, argue, add e.t.c The reporting verbs and the subjects are called the narrators comment. For indirect speech, this comes at the beginning of the sentence. For direct speech, it may come at the beginning, or at the end, or even in the middle.
  3. In reporting, a direct statement corresponds to an indirect statement, a direct question corresponds to an indirect question. Sentences with different types of indirect speech have different structures. For example: you are not allowed to say she asked me that….
  4. For indirect statement, no comma should normally be put after the reporting verbs (E.g. He said that,  he was happy is wrong). For direct question, a question mark is not used.
Statement‘Many people like my book,’ he said.He said that many people liked his book
Questions1. ‘Are you happy?’ she asked him.2. ‘Why are you afraid?’ she asked him.1.She asked him if he was happy2  She asked why he was afraid.
Command1. ‘Read the book right through,’ he said.2. ‘Read the book right through,’ he told me.1. He said I should read the book right through2. He told me to read the book right through

Practice 2

Rewrite the sentences changing direct into indirect speech

  1. ‘I have never been to America,’ she told him.
  2. ‘How many books have you written?’ she asked me.
  3. ‘The meeting was very stressful,’ she told me.
  4. ‘I will send you an email tomorrow, ‘ I assured her.
  5. ‘Can you reduce the price a little?’ I asked the book seller.

Skill Focus:  How to be more original in your Writing

In your English examination, you will often be giving a choice of subject on which to write.

  1. When in doubt, choose the subject that you are most familiar with. We all write best about things closest to our own experience.
  2. Whatever you do, do not try to get by with a ‘rehearsed answer’ – i.e. a composition that you have memorised. Such answers are quickly spotted by examiners and they earn no marks.
  3. When choosing, and writing on, a topic in an exercise, or in an examination, try to think of an unusual approach to the topic. You will earn marks for originality!
  4. Certain topics may strike a ‘creative cord’ in you: You may at times see opportunities for using your imagination – and the resources of the language.

For example, although adjectives are very useful on their own, they seldom enable the writer to give a really vivid and memorable expression. For that something more necessary. Compare sentence 1 with sentence 2.

  1. Hanifah was fat.
  2. Hanifah was as fat as a house.

The second sentence is clearly much better. Even this sentence could be improved in itself, the fatness of Hanifah is not particularly interesting. It only becomes interesting when we can imagine it more clearly; when we can understand what Hanifah felt like to be fat; what other people’s attitude to her fatness were and finally what Hanifah was really like in character. Interesting!!!

Fat Hanifah

Here is an extract from John Munonye’s novel Obi, which does all these jobs very well.

The convent was a literacy centre and marriage trading home. The white sisters from Ania had started it. They went back shortly after leaving the place in the charge of the lame woman they had brought with them

Her name was Hanifah though must people simply called her Miss Fat Hanifah! Her size was enormous. In true brotherly spirit, the catholic community of Ossa refrained from making open comments but not so the rest. they would say ‘Imagine her running a race’ or, ‘No wonder she can not find a husband’. She is two people put together and church men are not allowed to marry more than one; and she wouldn’t marry a heathen, either’. Hanifah knew that heathens of Ossa said such things about her, but she refused to be ruffled. She was a good-natured and even-tempered woman; an besides she consigned the idolaters and their tongues to the category of the devil works, calculated to ruin their mission in the town. In her many years at Ossa, only once she known to have been seriously upset. That was the day someone suggested not accurately in her hearing that she was well over 45, she shared tears on that day and some of pupils wept too,  in sympathy. They all loved Hanifah so much as indeed she loved them.


  1. Differentiate between direct and indirect speech.
  2. Give three examples of direct and indirect speeches.
  3. How can be original in your writing?

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