Basics of Direct Indirect Speech

In SSC exams, where there are direct questions to convert direct speech into indirect speech and vice-versa, you cannot afford to skip or make mistakes. Similarly, there is no scope for error in Banking & Insurance exams, where you have to attempt error spotting, phase replacement, etc.

Even though Direct & Indirect speech can be very tricky for some, you don’t need to worry at all! This detailed article on the Basics of Direct and Indirect Speech will help you conceptualise the topic very quickly. Read on to learn the Rules for Converting Direct Indirect SpeechSpotting Errors in Reported Speech sentences, etc. What’s more, by the end of this article, you will be able to able to write flawless essays and letters too! Download this article as a PDF by clicking above.

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Now let us look at the Basics of Direct Indirect speech.

Difference between Direct & Indirect Speech

Case 1

The Prosecutor: Tell me exactly what he had told you. Repeat his words.

The Witness: He said, “I am in my house now.”

Case 2

The Prosecutor: Tell me what he told you.

The Witness: He said he was in his house then.

In case 1, the witness is repeating the actual words of the speaker and this kind of reporting is called direct speech. In case 2, the witness is reporting what the speaker has said (matter) and it is known as indirect speech.

Direct speech I am in my house now
Indirect speech he was in his house then

Rules for Converting Direct Indirect Speech

Following are some golden rules and easy steps to convert direct indirect speech.

Step#1.  Note the tense of the reporting verb to decide the tense of the indirect speech.

Step#2. Change the time and place to indicate the actual time and place meant by the speaker.

Step#3. Use the appropriate pronoun for the subject and object.

Step#4. Use the proper structure/word order for the sentence.

Now let us consider these steps in detail, one by one.

Step#1. Deciding the tense and conversion of verb

Case 1

June said, “I go to the gym every day.”

Case 2

June says, “I go to the gym every day.”

In the above cases, ‘say’ is the verb which conveys the action of speaking. In case 1, the reporting verb, say is in the past tense – said. In case 2, the reporting verb is in the present tense.

All the verbs must be in the corresponding past tense, if the reporting verb is in the past tense.

June said, “I go to the gym every day.”→ June said that she went to the gym every day.


Rule # 2:
If the reporting verb is in the present or future tense, tense is not changed.

June says, “I go to the gym every day.” → June says that she goes to the gym every day.
June will say, “I go to the gym every day.” → June will say that she goes to the gym every day.

Conversion of Tense

Tense Change
Direct Speech Indirect Speech
Present simple “She volunteers for Green Peace,” he said. Past simple He said that she volunteeredfor Green Peace.
Present continuous The kid said, “Tom is chasing Jerry.” Past continuous The kid said that Tom was chasing Jerry.
Present perfect simple He said, “I have done my job.” Past perfect simple He said that he had done his job.
Present perfect continuous “I have been living there since 1991,” the old man said. Past perfect continuous The old man said that he had been living there since 1991.
Past simple “You did not return your book yesterday,” said the librarian. Past perfect simple The librarian said that he had not returned his book the previous day.
Past continuous “The lady was going to the Church,” the witness said. Past perfect continuous The witness said that the lady had been going to the Church.
Past perfect (simple, continuous) Mita said, “I had finishedmy work.” No change Mita said that she had finished her work.
“I had been reading a book,” said the man. The man said that he had been reading a book.

Modal verbs are also changed to their past form:
“I will be there,” he assured.  He assured (that) he would be there.

Changes in Modal Verbs
Direct speech Indirect speech
will would
shall would
 In reported questions, shall changes to should.
can could
may May (possibility) changes to might.
“I may not be there.” → He said (that) he might not be there.
May (permission) changes to could.
“You may wait outside.” → The officer said (that) we could wait outside.
must had to
“I must practice hard.”  She said that she had to practice hard.
 ‘Must’ is retained when indicating speculation.
“She must have hurt.” → He was worried she must have hurt.
might Might is usually retained in the indirect speech.
Exception: In reported hypothetical statements, ‘might’ changes
to might have been.
He might be there (assumption) → She said he might have beenthere.
could, should, would, need Retained.
“I should go there.” → He said he should go there.
used to, ought to Retained.
used to go for walking. → I told my new neighbour that I
used to go for walking.

Step#2. Changes in the words expressing time, place and connection

Time/place mentioned in the sentence must be changed accordingly to indicate the actual time/place.

On 21st May, 2016: “I will come tomorrow,” she said.
On 29th May, 2016: She said that she would come the next day.

“I was not here,” he said. He said that he was not there.

Basics of Direct Indirect Speech - Step#2 Changes in the words expressing time, place and connection

Direct Indirect Direct Indirect
now then
at that time
ago before
today that day tonight that night
tomorrow the following day
the next day
a day later
yesterday the previous day
the day before
next month/year the following month/year
the next month/year
a month/year later
last month/year the month/year before
the previous month/year
the preceding month/year
in some days/weeks in some days/weeks
from then
here there
this time/place that time/place these those
hither thither thus so
hence thence come go

Step#3. Selection of pronoun for the subject and object

Case 1

I will say to my friends, “I have started learning computer.”  I will tell my friends that I have started learning computer.

Here, the speaker as well as the reporter are the same and the pronoun must be the first person pronouns (I/we)

Case 2

The teacher said to me, “I hope you will bring credit to my school.”  The teacher hoped that Iwould bring credit to his school.

Here, the teacher is the speaker and the student (I) is the reporter. Thus, pronouns of the teacher must be in third person (he/she/it/they) and that of the reporter must be in first person.

Case 3

“Sam, will you help me carry my bags?” asked the old woman.  The old woman asked Sam whether he would help her carry her bags.

Here, the speaker the old woman and the reporter is a third person (neither the woman nor Sam). Thus, pronouns must be in third person.

Step#4. Word order of indirect speech

The word order of the indirect speech is the word order of a statement:

Subject + Verb + Object

“What are you saying?” she asked.  She asked what I was saying.

“Where is the college?”  He asked where the college was.

What an excellent piece of art!” she said.  She exclaimed with appreciation that it was an excellent piece of art.

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