Free Indirect Speech

What is free indirect speech?

Free indirect speech is also called free indirect discourse, free indirect style, or discours indirect libre in French.

Free Indirect SpeechWhile indirect speech conveys the reported statement in the words of the reporter, with verbs generally 'backshifted' as far as the tense is concerned and changes in pronouns and adverbials of time and place are made to align with the time of reporting; free direct speech lacks a reporting clause to show the shift from narration to reporting. It is often used in fiction to represent the mental reactions of characters to what they see or experience. 1

The French narrative theorist Gerard Genette described free indirect speech as follows:

"The narrator takes on the speech of the character, or, if one prefers, the character speaks through the voice of the narrator, and the two instances then are merged." 2

Indirect speech vs free indirect speech


Free indirect speech resembles indirect speech in shifting tenses and other references.


There is generally no reporting clause in free indirect speech and it retains some features of direct speech (such as direct questions and vocatives. i.e. expressions of direct address -as in 'I don't know, John').


Direct speech:

He sat down on the sofa carelessly. "Why are they asking me to contribute to the project?" he asked.

Indirect speech:

He sat down on the sofa carelessly and asked himself why they were asking him to contribute to the project.

Free indirect speech:

He sat down on the sofa carelessly. Why were they asking him to contribute to the project?

Famous writers who use free indirect speech

  • Goethe
  • Jane Austen
  • Gustave Flaubert
  • James Joyce
  • Virginia Woolf

1. Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language

2. From Randell Stevenson, Modernist Fiction: An Introduction, p.32. cited in this wekipedia entry)

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