Indirect Quotes in English

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Jun 27, 2019 03:15
Hey, y'all! Every now and again, I like to write an entry in English and explain an interesting or confusing grammatical rule in English. Today, I'd like to discuss the topic of indirect quotes in English and how they are structured. I hope you find this useful! As I am most familiar with Spanish and Japanese, I will try to use parallel examples from those languages as examples; I apologize if you are not a native speaker of either.

First of all, I'd like to point out the difference between a direct quote and an indirect quote. DIRECT quotes relay what someone has said, usually verbatim (word-for-word). Direct quotes must be used with quotation marks (" "). An indirect quote, on the other hand, can be used to summarize what a person said without needing to be word-for-word.
DIRECT = Danielle said, "I got sunburnt at the beach."
INDIRECT = Kyle said (that) he had forgotten to pack sunscreen for Danielle.


In English, indirect quotes are much more common and natural. It is rare to use direct quotations, except in books ("Now!" the protagonist shouted.) or other forms of storytelling, including when spoken.

In casual speech, we often find it cumbersome to use "said" too many times, so in American English we use a bunch of other odd ways to form direct quotes.

-- "To be like." This expression is used ALL THE TIME, especially among younger people. A lot of people, especially those who aren't American, find this construction annoying, but even I find myself using it without realizing.

EX: My girlfriend was like, "I'm actually an alien." And I was like, "Whaaaat?!"

-- "All." This is used to mean that someone way saying something a lot and in many different ways. Can also be used with "to be like."

EX: *After winning a basketball game, Jesse brags about his skills to his teammate, Noah. Later, Noah is talking to his parents...*

Noah: Jesse was all like, "I'm the best at basketball! I'm going to become a pro!"

**You can use "all" without "like" as well.

EX: Noah: Jesse was all, "I'm the best as basketball! I'm going to become a pro!"

-- "To go." Often used in the present tense, "to go" is another substitute for "to say." In casual storytelling, it is often used to express someone's reaction.

EX: The cow goes, "Moo!" The dog goes, "Woof!"

EX: I'm very clumsy. I was on a date once, and I fell down the stairs by accident. My date goes, "Are you drunk?"

-- Direct quotes are often used for quoting exclamations, because they're difficult to convert into an indirect quote.

EX: "What a beautiful day!" Jacqueline said.
Indirect version: Jacqueline said that it was a beautiful day (?). (The strength of the exclamation is not kept.)

Now, we can finally discuss indirect quotes. In English, indirect quotes are formed by slightly modifying the verb tense of the direct quotes. Done properly, the changes follow these rules:

PRESENT TENSE --> PAST TENSE (goes -> went)
PAST TENSE --> PAST PERFECT TENSE (went -> had gone)
FUTURE TENSE --> CONDITIONAL TENSE (will go -> would go)

PAST PERFECT TENSE --> PAST PERFECT TENSE (had gone -> had gone)
FUTURE PERFECT TENSE --> CONDITIONAL PERFECT TENSE (will have gone -> would have gone)

COMMAND --> INFINITIVE (Go! --> To go)

This pattern is pretty similar to what occurs in Spanish, but is very different from how it works in Japanese. Let's look at some examples of turning direct quotes into direct quotes using the formula from above.

John says, "The food is delicious." --> John said that the food was delicious.
(Juan dice, "La comida es deliciosa." --> Juan dijo que la comida era deliciosa.)
(「食べ物がおいしい」とジョンは言う。--> ジョンは食べ物がおいしいと言った。)**No tense change with おいしい**

Here's another, more complicated example.

Alyssa says, "I'm stuck in an elevator!" to the police. --> Alyssa told the police that she was stuck in an elevator.

Alyssa says, "I was stuck in an elevator for 12 hours." --> Alyssa said that she had been stuck in an elevator for 12 hours.

Do you see the difference?

Actually, in reality, we don't always convert the past tense to the past perfect tense. It would be okay to say: Alyssa said that she was stuck in an elevator for 12 hours. However, the present tense is, in most cases, converted to the past tense in an indirect quote. Sometimes if the indirect quote is a fact, it may keep the present tense.

A few more examples:

George proclaims, "I will become the President one day!" --> George proclaimed that he would become the President one day.

Blitz explains, "Indirect quotes are more common in daily conversation." --> Blitz explained that indirect quotes were more common in daily conversation.
**ALTERNATIVELY: Blitz explained that indirect quotes are more common in daily conversation. (Facts may retain the present tense.)

Mom commands, "Clean your room!" --> Mom commanded me to clean my room.

Flynn admits, "I have never been to Europe before." --> Flynn admitted that he had never been to Europe before.

Christina thinks, "I will have finished my homework by then." --> Christina thought that she would have finished her homework by then.

Here's a very complicated example!

Layla says, "Tyler said that my boyfriend had been at the bar last night." ---> Layla said that Tyler had said that her boyfriend had been at the bar last night.


I'm sorry this post turned out to be so long! If y'all have any questions, please ask!