How To Use Indirect Quotes To Elevate Your Writing

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Indirect quotes allow you to capture the meaning and tone of another speaker or writer’s words without quoting them directly. 

This gives you more control over how the quote fits into your narrative, both in terms of grammar and style. 

In this article, we’ll learn when and how to use indirect quotes, both on their own and in conjunction with direct quotes. We’ll also look at different types of indirect quotes, such as free indirect speech, and see some examples of indirect quotes in context. 

Keep reading to learn how to use indirect quotes to improve your writing. 

What is an indirect quote?

An indirect quote is when you paraphrase another speaker or writer’s words, rather than reproducing their statement exactly.

Unlike a direct quote, it doesn’t require the use of quotation marks (“”).

Nor does it need to be prefaced or followed by a verb like “says/said” or “writes/wrote.” Instead, you can use a wide variety of verbs and sentence structures to indirectly quote somebody.

Examples of indirect quotes

  1. Consider the following exchange:

    Michael: I’m going to be the first to cross the finish line.
    Sarah: No way, I’m much more likely to win.

    Here’s a sentence that indirectly quotes them both:

    Michael believes he’s going to be the first across the finish line, but Sarah thinks she’s more likely to win.

    This is an example of “free indirect speech,” a type of indirect quote we’ll learn more about below.

  2. It was Benjamin Franklin, I believe, who said that nothing can be certain except death and taxes.

  3. In her ruling yesterday, Judge Sanders agreed with the State's argument that her court was unable to determine, with any degree of reasonable certainty, who was at fault.

  4. Consider the following statement:

    She said, “I’m prepared, come hell or high water, to do whatever is necessary.”

    Here is an indirect quote that improves the readability:

    She said she was prepared to do whatever is necessary—come hell or high water. 

When (and why) to use a direct quote vs. an indirect quote

Direct and indirect quotes have different uses: 

Use a direct quote when you want your audience to read the author's words exactly as they wrote or spoke them because the phrasing is important for reasons of emphasis, argumentation, accuracy, or credibility.

You may also choose to use a direct quote if the author’s own wording is particularly eloquent or impactful (if you’re quoting Shakespear, for example).

If there is no specific reason to quote verbatim, it is often simpler to use an indirect quote. 

Use an indirect quote when you want to summarize, simplify, or clarify the original statement and the exact wording isn’t important. 

Indirect quotes offer some important advantages:

  1. They’re more flexible, so it’s easier to fit them into a sentence or paragraph without “breaking stride.” (Too many direct quotes, on the other hand, can make your writing seem choppy and ruin the reading experience for your audience.)

  2. It’s easier to introduce additional information, even within the same sentence. For example, consider this indirect quote:

    Like Aristotle after him, Plato was of the opinion that the first and greatest victory, when all is said and done, is to conquer yourself.

    In actuality, Plato (Laws, 626e) draws no such comparison to Aristotle, his then student. Nor does the sentiment, “when all is said and done” appear anywhere in the text. In this example, they have been introduced to provide context and styling.

  3. Finally, the use of indirect quotations can help solidify your position as an authority. Rather than simply repeating what others have said, it gives you an opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve understood the crux of the author’s argument and comment on their position without breaking the flow of your text.

One thing to bear in mind: it can be a mistake to let quotes, whether direct or indirect, overwhelm your writing. Quotes should be used sparingly and to supplement your argument.

How to format an indirect quote

You’ll be happy to learn that, unlike direct quotes, there’s no special formatting for indirect quotes. You can simply fit them into your writing without worrying about punctuation or convention. This means that you can adjust the order and choice of the words, the level of complexity, the tense, and even the tone.

That being said, it’s important you remain true to the source’s meaning and don’t misrepresent or misconstrue what the other person has said. 

How to attribute an indirect quote

As with direct quotes, you’re expected to cite your source. An indirect quote isn’t an excuse for plagiarism, which can lead to heavy criticism and even disciplinary action from your employer, client, or university—not to mention fines or legal action if you plagiarize copy-written content.

Fortunately, indirect quotes make it easy to weave somebody’s ideas into your own work, while still offering them the credit they deserve. 

There are many ways to introduce indirect quotes. Here are just some of the most common ones:

  • "According to Darwin, evolution is the root of all complex life on the planet."
  • "Darwin observed that natural selection drives evolution." (This is a common format, and there are many verbs you can swap in for ‘observed’, including ‘pointed out’, ‘suggested’, ‘proclaimed’, ‘reasoned’, ‘argued’, ‘mentioned’, ‘highlighted’, ‘underscored’, ‘remarked’, ‘stated’, ‘described’, and ‘conveyed.’)
  • "In the words of Einstein, energy and matter are interchangeable."
  • "As per Hawking, black holes emit radiation."
  • "As Tesla puts it, alternating current is more efficient than direct current."
  • "From Curie's perspective, radioactivity was a new frontier in science."
  • "Per Galileo, the Earth revolves around the Sun."
  • "In Newton's view, every action has an equal and opposite reaction."
  • "Following Mendel, certain traits are inherited following specific laws."
  • "By Feynman's account, quantum mechanics operates on probability."
  • "Through Copernicus' lens, the heliocentric model describes our solar system."
  • "In line with Kepler's observations, planetary orbits are elliptical."

Indirect quotes vs. indirect speech vs. indirect free speech

Indirect quotes, indirect speech and free indirect speech are related but slightly different concepts. 

  1. Indirect quotes, as we’ve seen, allow you to paraphrase entire paragraphs or ideas from an author.

    Indirect speech and indirect free speech are literary devices, typically used in fiction writing.

  2. Indirect speech reports a character’s words as they would have said them, without the constraints of direct speech.

    For example:

    Direct speech: Jamie said, “That’s not fair.”
    Indirect speech: Jamie said that wasn’t fair.

  3. Free indirect speech blends third-person narration with a character’s thoughts, feelings, and speech.

    For example:

    Direct speech: Muhammed said, “It’s a beautiful day outside. I think I’ll go for a walk. I just need to be sure I get back in time to do the groceries.”
    Free indirect speech: Noticing what a beautiful day it was, Muhammed decided to go for a walk. He just needed to be sure he was back in time to do the groceries. 

Bonus: Mixed quotations

Combining direct and indirect quotes is a great way to add variety to your writing, which helps keep readers engaged.

It also allows you to be more selective in how you present another speaker or author’s words. If just a few words require a direct quote because, for example, the choice of wording, you can enter these in a direct quote and summarize the rest. 

For example:

  • John said that Marie was one of the “most sublimely beautiful women” he’d ever seen.

  • Plato once remarked that, by abstaining from politics entirely, you are more likely than not to “end up being governed by your inferiors.”

Mixed quotes are also useful when quoting directly would require lots of extra formatting. For example, instead of: 

"I love… writing; creating with my own words a whole new world... [There] is nothing so … liberating."

We can write:

The author expresses enjoyment in writing and creating “a whole new world" with their words and finds it liberating.


Indirect quotes offer a convenient, flexible way to summarize another speaker or writer’s words. You can shorten and simplify what they’ve said, adjust the tense or tone, and add context. 

Use indirect quotes to maintain flow, reserving direct quotes for instances where the choice of words is especially important.

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