United Nations Editorial Manual Online
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:
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.
The verb tenses are normally changed as follows:
The following examples illustrate these rules:
Present to past tense
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.
Present perfect to past perfect tense
Past to past perfect tense
Past perfect tense (no change)
Future to secondary future tense
Future perfect to secondary future perfect tense
Conditional tense (no change)
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.
The infinitive form can often be used to avoid cumbersome or awkward constructions in reported speech.
Pronouns, possessives and demonstratives
The changes required in pronouns, possessive adjectives and demonstratives are as follows:
Adverbs and adjectives
Adverbs and adjectives denoting time and place may have to be changed as follows:
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.
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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