Reported speech

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Reported speech, very simply, is speech that is reported: a writer attempts to express a speaker's ideas on paper. It is, in other words, a representation in writing of something that has been spoken or thought (at times when we report on a book we have read, our account even of written language may take the form of reported speech.) There are two ways of reporting speech, of which (the second) is sometimes described as reported speech; but this seems a loose usage when there is a more accurate one available.

  • In Direct Speech, the writer, or reporter, writes the exact words used by the speaker, along with such reporting clauses as "he said,". Its status as direct speech is signalled by being enclosed in inverted commas (;speech marks). Within those speech marks, there are often other punctuation marks which serve to indicate the speaker's tone, such as the question mark (?), exclamation mark (!), or 'dash of interruption' ( -- ). Apart from the difficulties of accurate transcription, this is the less complicated option for writing down what has been said. By and large, speech reported in the direct manner is more usual in fiction, and occasionally in newspapers, than in academic writing. If you do want to use direct speech, you may like to see our article on punctuation of direct speech.)

In academic life, however, the less complicated option is not always the favoured one. You are advised to try to use the alternative, indirect speech (sometimes loosely, and inaccurately, called 'reported speech'), in academic writing.

  • In Indirect speech, the speaker's words have to be modified. The whole is introduced, like direct speech, by reporting clauses, but in indirect speech, the reporting verb is followed by that, or a similar word; first person pronouns are replaced by third person ones; and the tense varies in ways that keep step with the tense of the reporting verb. The precise way of handling the reporting of indirect speech depends on whether you are reporting