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Indirect or reported speech

Indirect speech conveys a report of something that was said or written rather than the exact words that were spoken or written. It is used in many United Nations documents, including summary records and reports on the proceedings of intergovernmental bodies. Indirect speech is not enclosed in quotation marks.

When converting direct, or quoted, speech to indirect, or reported, speech, several changes must be made. First, it is necessary to add a principal, or reporting, clause that contains a verb of saying, thinking or reporting in the past tense (She stated that...). Next, a corresponding shift is made in the verb tenses, pronouns and certain other words in the original statement:

Direct: The election is being held today.

Indirect: The Acting President confirmed that the election was being held that day [or on a specific date].

In a summary of a speech or discussion, the reporting clause must be added initially to establish the pattern of indirect speech but should not be included in every subsequent sentence. The shift in verb tenses, pronouns and other words signals the fact that the words are being reported.  

Verb tenses

The verb tenses are normally changed as follows:

Direct speech     

Present perfect
Past perfect
Future (shall, will)
Future perfect (will have)    

to        Indirect speech

Past perfect
Past perfect
No change
Secondary future (should, would)
Secondary future perfect ( would have)
No change normally

The following examples illustrate these rules:

Present to past tense

Direct: Fifteen States are members of the working group.

Indirect: The Secretary of the Council reported that 15 States were members of the working group.

Even though the original statement may still be valid at the time of reporting, the verb is changed from the present to the past tense since it must agree with the verb in the main clause, which, whether stated or understood, is in the past tense.

Note: This rule is not necessarily applied to statements that are universally true:

The speaker noted that, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has [not had] the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Present perfect to past perfect tense

Direct: The investigators have been conducting hearings on security issues for several days.

Indirect: The Director noted that the investigators had been conducting hearings on security issues for several days.

Past to past perfect tense

Direct: The Chair resigned last week.

Indirect: It was announced that the Chair had resigned the previous week.  

Past perfect tense (no change)

Direct: The Board had been following the question closely for some time.

Indirect: The Director General acknowledged that the Board had been following the question closely for some time.

Future to secondary future tense

Direct: We will honour the ceasefire.

Indirect: The insurgents stated that they would honour the ceasefire.

Future perfect to secondary future perfect tense

Direct: By 2015 the number will have doubled.

Indirect: It was estimated that by 2015 the number would have doubled.

Conditional tense (no change)

Direct: If the necessary funding were available, the programme would be put into operation.

Indirect: The Director said that if the necessary funding were available, the programme would be put into operation.

Special verb forms

Some auxiliary verbs, such as must and ought to, have only one form, which is used in both direct and indirect speech. When should is used as an auxiliary, the form does not change either.

Direct:  Delegations [must/ought to/should] limit their statements to five minutes.

Indirect: The Chairperson emphasized that delegations [must/ought to/should] limit their statements to five minutes.

The infinitive form can often be used to avoid cumbersome or awkward constructions in reported speech.

Direct: It is reported that the situation is grave.

Indirect: She told the Council that the situation was reported to be grave.

(Awkward: She told the Council that it was reported that the situation was grave.)

In that-clauses with verbs such as demand, ask, recommend and suggest, either the present subjunctive (He suggested that the Committee adopt the text) or should plus the infinitive (He suggested that the Committee should adopt the text) may be used.

Pronouns, possessives and demonstratives

The changes required in pronouns, possessive adjectives and demonstratives are as follows:

Direct speech


to   Indirect speech

he, she
him, her
his, her, the
his, hers
their, the
they, them
their, the
that, the
those, the

Adverbs and adjectives

Adverbs and adjectives denoting time and place may have to be changed as follows:


Direct speech
to   Indirect speech
here there
now, at the present time then, at the time
present existing, current
today that day, at the time
tomorrow the day after, the next day


the day before, the previous day
ago before, earlier


Questions and exclamations

The rules set out above also apply to questions and exclamations. In addition, the final punctuation mark (question mark or exclamation point) should be changed to a full stop (period) in an indirect statement. In some cases, the word order may have to be changed slightly. When converting a direct question to an indirect one, the subject and verb often have to be inverted.


Direct: Why should we include this question in the agenda?

Indirect: Several Committee members asked why they should include the question in the agenda.


Direct: Such acts of aggression should not be tolerated by the international community!

Indirect: The Ambassador declared that such acts of aggression should not be tolerated by the international community.

Differing styles in reports

A mixture of direct and indirect styles in a summary of a statement or discussion should be avoided whenever possible. When, however, an account of the proceedings of an intergovernmental body is followed by the conclusions or recommendations put forward by the body, different tenses are often used. While the proceedings are summarized in indirect speech (past tense), the conclusions or recommendations are normally written in the present tense. In such cases, the conclusions and recommendations should be clearly set off from the summary by means of a heading or subheading.


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