Tema 9- Discurso directo, discurso indirecto

Tema 9- Discurso directo, discurso indirecto

Direct speech purports to give the exact words that someone utters or has uttered in speech or writing.

  • David said to me after the meeting: “In my opinion, the arguments in favour of radical changes in the curriculum are not convincing”.

Indirect speech , on the other hand, conveys a report of what has been said or written, bout does so in the words of a subsequent reporter.

  • David said to me after the meeting that in his opinion, the arguments in favour of radical changes in the curriculum were not convincing”.

Direct speech is usually signalled by being enclosed in quotation marks. The reporting clause may occur before, within or after the direct speech.

When the reporting clause id positioned medially or finally, subject-verb inversion may occur if the verb is in the simple present or simple past.

  • “I wonder” John said/ he said/ said John “whether I can borrow your bicycle”.
  • “The radio is too loud” Elizabeth complained/ she complained/ complained Elizabeth.

Inversion is most common when the verb is said, the subject is not a pronoun and the reporting clause is medial. It is unusual when the subject of the reporting clause is a pronoun even when the verb is said f.i: said he.

Backshift in indirect speech:

Several changes are usually made in converting direct speech into indirect speech. If the time of reporting is expressed as later than the time of the utterance, there is generally a change of verb forms.

The change is termed backshift and the resulting relationship of verb forms in the reporting and reported clauses is known as sequence of tenses.

Correspondence for the reporting of direct speech into indirect speech:





Present continuous

Past continuous


Past or Past Perfect

Past continuous

Past Perfect continuous

Present Perfect

Past Perfect

Past Perfect

Past Perfect



If the present references in direct speech become past references in the indirect speech, there is a corresponding shift of verb forms into the past. The verbs in the indirect speech are related to the time of reporting.

  • “I am being paid by the hour”.
  • She said she was being paid by the hour
  • “The exhibition finished last week” explained Ann
  • Ann explained that the exhibition had finished the preceeding week

Backshift is optional when the time-reference of the original utterance is valid at the time of reporting.

  • Their teacher told them that the earth moves around the sun. (eternal truths)
  • I didn´ t know that our meeting is next Tuesday.

The reporting verb may be in the present tense for reports attributed for famous works or authors which have presents validity.

  • The bible says that adultery is a sin.
  • Chaucer somewhere writes that love is blind.

Other changes in indirect speech:

1. The reference to persons in indirect speech must be appropriate to the situation at the time of reporting. There may therefore be changes in pronouns or nouns: personal, reflexive and possessive.

· “I´ll behave myself” he promised

· He promised that he´d behave himself

· “You know my family” he said

· She told him he knew his family.

2. Demonstratives: this/that, these/those

· “Take this chair” he said

· He told me to take that chair.

3. Other changes may be necessary to adjust the references to time or place.




That day


The day before

The day before yesterday

Two days before


The next/following day

The day after tomorrow

In two days´ time

Next week/year

The following week/year

Last week/year

The previous week/year

A year ago

A year before



Here can become there but only when it is clear what place is meant:

· At the station he said: “I´ll be here again tomorrow”.

· He said that he´d be there again the next day.

Usually here has to be replaced by some phrase:

· She said: “ You can sit here Tom”

· She told Tom that he could sit beside her.

Indirect statements, questions, exclamations, directives:

All the main discourse types may be converted into indirect speech:

1. Indirect statements: subordinate that-clause

· “They are wrong” He said

· He said that they were wrong

2. Indirect questions: subordinate wh-clause or if/whether clause.

A. Yes/No questions:

· Are you ready yet? asked John

· John asked me whether I was ready yet.

B. Alternative questions

· Are you satisfied or not? I asked her

· I asked her whether she was satisfied or not.

C. Wh- questions

· When will the plane leave? I wondered

· I wondered when the plane would leave

3. Indirect exclamations: subordinate wh-clause

· “What a brave boy you are!” Margaret told him

· Margaret told him what a brave boy he was.

4. Indirect directives: subordinate that-clause or to-infinitive clause (without subject).

A. Positive: “Tidy up that room at once” I said to Tom

I told Tom to tidy up the room at once

I insisted that Tom should tidy up that room at once

B. Negative: “Don´t move” said the policeman

The policeman ordered him not to move.

All the changes outlined before apply to statements, questions and exclamations. With directives, there is no tense backshift in the verb forms such as mandative subjunctive, putative should and to infinitive.

Reporting suggestions:

  1. Including the speaker: Let´s go home
    • He suggested going home
    • He suggested that they should go home
    • He suggested (that) they went home
  1. Without including the speaker: Why don´t we go home?

· He suggested his going home

· He suggested him going home

Infinitive and gerund constructions in indirect speech:

  1. agree, refuse, offer, promise, threaten+ infinitive can be used instead of “say that”
    • I´ll go – He promised to go
    • The kidnappers said that they would kill him – The kidnappers threatened to kill him
    • I won´t do it – He refused to do it
  1. accuse of, admit, apologize for, deny, insist on + gerund can be used instead of “say that”

· No, I didn´t do it – He denied having done it

· You took the money – He accused me of taking the money

· “I am sorry I am late” – He apologized for being late.

Say, tell and alternative introductory verbs:

  1. Say and tell with direct speech:

Say can introduce a statement or follow it

Inversion of say and noun subject is possible when says follows the statement

    • Tom said: “I´ve just heard the news”.
    • “I´ve just heard the news” Tom said/ said Tom

Say + to + person addressed is possible, but this phrase must follow the direct statement, it cannot introduce it.

· “ I am leaving at once” Tom said to me

Inversion is not possible here.

Tell requires the person addressed: tell me, except with tell lies/ stories/ the truth/ the time.

Tell used with direct speech must be placed after the direct statement.

· “ I am leaving at once” Tom told me

Inversion is not possible with tell.

  1. Say and tell with indirect speech: Indirect statements are normally introduced by say or tell + object. Say + to + object is also possible.

· He said he ´d just heard the news.

· He told me that he ´d just heard the news.

Tell….. how/ about is also possible.

· He told us about crossing the mountains.

· He told us how he had crossed the mountains.

  1. Other useful verbs are: add, admit, answer, complain, deny, explain, grumble, object, observe, point out, remark, reply etc. They can be used with direct or indirect speech.

With direct speech they follow direct statements:

· “It won´t cost more” Tom assured us.

When they introduce indirect statements that should be laced after the verb:

· He pointed out that he was going to be late.

The modal auxiliaries in indirect speech:

  1. If there is a change in time-reference, a modal auxiliary is backshifted from present tense forms to past tense forms, even if they do not indicate past time in indirect speech.











    • You may be able to answer this question.
    • The told her she might be able to answer that question
    • “I won´t pay another penny”. I said
    • I said that I wouldn´t pay another penny.
  1. If a modal auxiliary in the direct speech is already in the past tense form, then the same form remains in indirect speech.

· “ You shouldn´t smoke” in the bedroom” he told them

· He told them that they shouldn´t smoke” in the bedroom.

  1. Several modal auxiliaries or marginal modals have only one form: must, ought to, need and had better. That form remains in indirect speech.

· “You must be hungry”. He said

· He said that they must be hungry.

In its obligational sense, the past of must may be replaced by had to in indirect speech.

· “You must be in by 10 tonight” his parents told him

· His parents told him that he had to /must be in by 10 that night

Free Indirect speech and free direct speech:

1. Free indirect speech: It is used to report speech or the stream of thought. It is basically a form of indirect speech, the reporting clause is omitted and the potentialities of direct-speech sentence structure are retained f.i: direct questions and exclamations, vocatives, tag questions and interjections. It is therefore only the backshift of the verb, personal pronouns, demonstratives and time and place references that signals the fact that the words are being reported rather than being in direct speech.

2. Free Direct speech: It is also used in fiction writing to represent a person´s stream of thought. It is basically a form of direct speech but it is merged with the narration without any overt indication by a reporting clause. It is distinguished from the past time reference of narration by its use of unshifted forms.

Direct speech: John got up and said: “ I want my book now”.

Indirect speech: John got up and said that he wanted his book then.

Free Direct speech: John got up: I want my book now.

Free indirect speech: John got up: he wanted his book then.