Reported Speech: Direct Speech

Mainly, there are two types of reported speech: direct speech and indirect speech. In this lesson, we will focus on the first type: how to use direct speech.

"Direct Speech" in the English Grammar

What Is Direct Speech?

In direct speech (also called quotes), we repeat the exact words someone said. We place the direct reported speech between quotation marks (also called speech marks or inverted commas).

Reporting Verbs

Usually, a direct speech uses a reporting verb in the past simple tense. The most common reporting verbs are:

  • say
  • tell
  • ask
  • answer
  • demand
  • cry
  • add

Reporting verbs can appear before the actual spoken words, after them, or inside the reported sentence.

Say Vs. Tell

'Say' and 'tell' are two of the most common reporting verbs in direct speech, but 'say' is more common. When we use 'say,' we do not mention the addressee of the reported sentence, however, if we do want to mention them, we use the preposition to.

"I'll see you at the party," Mia said.

"See you later," Mia said to me. (Do not say: "See you later," Mia said me.)

However, when we use 'tell' in direct reported speech, we must mention the person being spoken to. 'Tell' is a verb that needs a direct and indirect object. For example:

"Come over here," Liam told Elijah. (Do not say: "Come over here," Liam told.)

Also, if we want to report a question, we use 'say', not tell.

"Are you OK?" Amelia said. (Do not say: "Are you OK?" Amelia told me.)

If we want to report wishes, greetings, congratulations, etc. we use 'say,' not 'tell.'

"Happy birthday!" Benjamin said. (Do not say: "Happy birthday!" Benjamin told Oliver.)

Reporting and Reported Clauses

Speech reports have two parts:

  1. the reporting clause
  2. the reported clause

The reporting clause contains a reporting verb such as 'say', 'tell', 'ask', 'reply', etc., usually in the past simple tense, and the reported clause contains the actual words the speaker said. The reporting clause may come first or second.

Lucas said, "I have a date with Tiffany tonight."

"Give that back to me!" Noah demanded.

Sometimes, in formal or literary texts, the reporting clause comes in the middle of the reported clause.

"Was it," Ethan asked, "the last time you had seen Mr. Jackson?"

"Yes," Isabella said, "it was the last time."

using direct speech to quote someone

Tip!

If we want to describe how someone said something, we can use adverbs with the reporting verb.

"I will accept it!" Julian said happily.

"May I speak to him?" she asked somewhat angrily.

Inversion

In the process of telling a story, especially in novels, when the reporting clause comes second, we often invert the subject and reporting verb. For example:

"My government will invest in the Stock Market," said the queen.

"Hey! Wait for me!" cried Sawyer.

Informal Narratives

Sometimes in informal contexts, we use the present simple tense in the reporting clause. For example:

So then this guy says, "I have a gun. Give me all your money."

In very informal contexts, we can also use the present continuous tense in the reporting clause to make our statement sound dramatic. For example:

And this guy's staring at me and asking, "Didn't you hear me?"

Direct Speech: Punctuation

In direct speech, a comma is usually placed between the reporting clause and the reported clause.
The exact words of the speaker are placed in quotation marks, either single ('…') or double ("…").
If the reported clause comes first, the comma is placed inside the quotation marks. Pay attention to the examples:

"I cannot sing very well," George said.

Nora said, 'I don’t want to marry you.'

If the reported clause is a question or exclamation, we use a question mark or exclamation mark, instead of a comma. For example:

'Are you sure about this?' Penelope asked.

"I don't care!" Gavin shouted.

Sometimes when the reporting clause comes first, we use a colon (:) between the reporting clause and the reported clause. For example:

Ivan replied: 'I don't think it's possible.'

The reported clause always begins with a capital letter, unless the reporting verb comes in the middle of the sentence.

'Why did you say that?' Hannah asked.

'I will see you there,' Skyler said, 'unless something comes up.'

Review

Direct speech repeats, or quotes the exact words that were spoken. When we use direct speech in writing, we place the spoken words between quotation marks (" ") and we are not allowed to change the words or the tense of the sentence. We may be reporting something that is being said now (for example a conversation between two people in separate rooms repeated by a friend), or telling someone later about a previous conversation.

Here are some important verbs that are used to report something directly.

say/tell ask
demand cry
answer add

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