Cambridge Dictionaries online Cambridge Dictionaries online

The most popular online dictionary and thesaurus for learners of English

English definition of “indirect speech”

indirect speech

noun [U]     specialized (UK also reported speech, US also indirect discourse)
the act of reporting something that was said, but not using exactly the same words → Compare direct speechLinguistic terms and linguistic styleQuoting and making references direct speechGrammar:Reported speechReported speech is how we represent the speech of other people or what we ourselves say. There are two main types of reported speech: direct speech and indirect speech.See moreGrammar:Reported speech: reporting and reported clausesSpeech reports consist of two parts: the reporting clause and the reported clause. The reporting clause includes a verb such as say, tell, ask, reply, shout, usually in the past simple, and the reported clause includes what the original speaker said.See moreGrammar:Reported speech: punctuationSee moreGrammar:Reported speech: reporting verbsSee moreGrammar:Reported speech: direct speechDirect speech is a representation of the actual words someone said. A direct speech report usually has a reporting verb in the past simple. The most common reporting verb is said. The reporting clause may come first or second.See moreGrammar:Direct speech: inversion of subject and reporting verbIn narratives, especially novels and short stories, when the reporting clause comes second, we often invert the subject (s) and reporting verb (v):See moreGrammar:Direct speech: present simple and continuous reporting verbsSee moreGrammar:Reported speech: indirect speechIndirect speech focuses more on the content of what someone said rather than their exact words. In indirect speech, the structure of the reported clause depends on whether the speaker is reporting a statement, a question or a command.See moreGrammar:Indirect speech: reporting statementsIndirect reports of statements consist of a reporting clause and a that-clause. We often omit that, especially in informal situations:See moreGrammar:Indirect speech: reporting questionsSee moreGrammar:Indirect speech: reporting commandsIndirect reports of commands consist of a reporting clause, and a reported clause beginning with a to-infinitive:See moreGrammar:Indirect speech: present simple reporting verbWe can use the reporting verb in the present simple in indirect speech if the original words are still true or relevant at the time of reporting, or if the report is of something someone often says or repeats:See moreGrammar:Indirect speech: past continuous reporting verbIn indirect speech, we can use the past continuous form of the reporting verb (usually say or tell). This happens mostly in conversation, when the speaker wants to focus on the content of the report, usually because it is interesting news or important information, or because it is a new topic in the conversation:See moreGrammar:Backshift‘Backshift’ refers to the changes we make to the original verbs in indirect speech because time has passed between the moment of speaking and the time of the report.See moreGrammar:Indirect speech: changes to pronounsChanges to personal pronouns in indirect reports depend on whether the person reporting the speech and the person(s) who said the original words are the same or different.See moreGrammar:Indirect speech: changes to adverbs and demonstrativesWe often change demonstratives (this, that) and adverbs of time and place (now, here, today, etc.) because indirect speech happens at a later time than the original speech, and perhaps in a different place.See moreGrammar:Indirect speech: typical errorsSee moreGrammar:Reported speech: reporting nounsReporting nouns are nouns such as comment, criticism, remark, statement. We can represent indirect speech with reporting nouns as well as with reporting verbs. These are more common in writing than speaking, and are usually quite formal. (Reported speech is underlined.)See more
(Definition of indirect speech noun from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)
Focus on the pronunciation of indirect speech

Translations of “indirect speech”

Word of the Day


a document given to students or reporters which contains information about a particular subject

Word of the Day


Read our blog about how the English language behaves.

Learn More

New Words

Find words and meanings that have just started to be used in English, and let us know what you think of them.

Learn More