Question for Mattie in Guyana:

“What is the difference between direct and indirect speech?”

Hi Mattie. Thanks for your question. We have quite an extensive explanation about direct and indirect speech in the English4Today online grammar and I’ve put links through to that in the blog posting and in the grammar FAQ. Let’s just have a quick look at it though before you go to the website for more detail and to find out how you form sentences with direct and indirect speech.


You can answer the question “What did he/she say?” in two ways:

  • by repeating the words spoken (direct speech)
  • by reporting the words spoken (indirect or reported speech).

Direct Speech
Direct speech repeats, or quotes, the exact words spoken. When we use direct speech in writing, we place the words spoken between inverted commas (“….”) and there is no change in these words. We may be reporting something that’s being said NOW (for example a telephone conversation), or telling someone later about a previous conversation


She says “What time will you be home?”
She said “What time will you be home?”
and I said “I don’t know!

“There’s a fly in my soup!” screamed Simone.
John said, “There’s an elephant outside the window.”

Reported Speech
Reported speech is usually used to talk about the past, so we normally change the tense of the words spoken. We use reporting verbs like ‘say’, ‘tell’, ‘ask’, and we may use the word ‘that’ to introduce the reported words. Inverted commas are not used.

She said, “I saw him.”  ->  She said that she had seen him.

  1. ‘That’ may be omitted:
    She told him that she was happy.
    She told him she was happy.
  2. ‘Say’ and ‘tell’:
    Use ‘say’ when there is no indirect object:
    He said that he was tired.Always use ‘tell’ when you say who was being spoken to (i.e. with an indirect object):
    He told me that he was tired.
    and ‘speak’ are used:
    – to describe the action of communicating:
    He talked to us.
    She was speaking on the telephone.
    – with ‘about’ to refer to what was said:
    He talked (to us) about his parents.


Direct and indirect speech
Tense changes with reported speech
Reported speech: change of time and place
Question forms and reported speech
Orders, requests and suggestions
Hopes, intentions and promises
Summary or reporting verbs