Direct vs. Indirect Quotations

Teen boy gesticulating and grimacing.

On the surface, differentiating between direct and indirect quotations is easy. Direct quotations have a speaker’s or writer’s exact words set off in quotation marks. Indirect quotations have no quotation marks because they don’t use the writer’s exact words. In writing a narrative essay, for example, you might recount a time your mother gave you advice by using a direct quotation, like so:

Mom said, “Always brush your teeth before bed.”

Or you could use an indirect quotation, like so:

Mom said that I should always brush my teeth before bed.

The information is the same. Your mom’s exact words in the direct quotation example were simply rephrased or summarized in the indirect quotation. Both direct and indirect quotations have their places in research papers and essays (especially expository and persuasive ones). When deciding which of the two kinds to use in a certain situation, keep in mind a few guidelines:

Use direct quotations when the source contains such unique, powerful, or interesting words that altering them would detract from the impact of their meaning. Take, for example, this simple direct quotation, like so:

Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

You could paraphrase the quotation as follows:

Friedrich Nietzsche said that people have their own ways of doing things.

set of quotation marks.

Source: Quotation Marks, Phillip Martin

This, however, strips the original language of its power. In this case, it would be best to use a direct quotation.

In other words, use direct quotations when there is a compelling reason to do so. Don’t indiscriminately sprinkle your writing with direct quotations because you think they look good or because using them was part of the assignment. Make direct quotations count!

Remember to place commas and periods inside closing quotation marks.

Note: Some style guides have different rules, so be sure to check yours before punctuating a quotation.

Quotation Marks

Note: Indirect quotations are often, but not always, preceded by that or if. For example, you might write the following:

Zeke remarked that I should close the door, and he then asked if I wanted to stay for dinner.

Be sure that you have rewritten the key ideas using different words and sentence structures than were used in the original text.

Research papers and essays that require outside sources do more than simply retell facts or events. Your purpose in writing such papers is to analyze, explain, or persuade. Don’t use quotations of either kind without including your own commentary, insight, or analysis about them.

To practice using quotation marks in direct quotations and other situations, do this exercise. (You may want to refer to the excellent set of punctuation rules that is included at the end of this lesson.)

Write your answers using your notes. When you are finished, visit the answer key for the exercise.

Now you’re ready to learn how to embed direct quotations successfully.