Changing Quotes

Students ask me: “Can I change people’s quotes?”  The answer is: you MUST change people’s quotes.

Why?  Because few people speak in articulate, uncluttered, logical sentences.  People grunt, um and ah, blow air, suck air, giggle, stutter and repeat words.  They use awful expressions like “y’know”.  They start EVERY sentence with the word “Look . . .”

Also many “pausing expressions” like “actually”, or “actually y’know”, or “like”, or “like y’know”.  Many people litter their sentences those silly unnecessary word “basically” and “essentially”. They are annoying to LISTEN to, but totally annoying if readers had to READ them in written quotes.

If you quoted people absolutely exactly (verbatim), it would appear you were making fun of them.  If you quoted a person with a heavy accent exactly as she spoke, you would be accused of racism.

You should not write: Carmelinda said: “Hey-a, you-a, gonna, Bob-a, he gonna not-a do-a that.”

So you write: Carmelinda said: “Bob is not going to do that.”

Or you write it as an indirect quote: Carmelinda said Bob would not do that.

But if you’re TIDYING-UP a person’s speech for a direct quote, or changing what a person said into an indirect quote you must NOT change his essential words, the order of the words or their meaning.  Be sure you understood exactly what he said and meant.  Following are:

Examples of what people really said, sound-by-sound, word-by-word in a verbatim quote

Then how it might be tidied-up for a direct quote

Or, made into an indirect quote

Remember that direct quotes are usually better than indirect quotes, particularly if someone says something dramatic or funny.

It would be dull to write: The Leader of the Opposition said her party would win.

It would be better to put it in a direct quote if what she said was something colourful like: “I’ll crush them into smithereens, and I’ll kick their dumb backsides from here to Timbuktu.”



Verbatim:  “Well, I, ah, I guess I never, ah, whew, ah, y’know, I never imagined that people like, you know, like Bob would ever turn on us, just turn on us, and be a rotten traitor, really, y’know,” said Burnett.

Direct quote:  “I never imagined people like Bob would ever turn on us, and be a rotten traitor,” said Burnett.

Indirect quote:  Burnett said he had never imagined that Bob would turn on them and be a rotten traitor.

Verbatim: “*#@*! hell! What th’damn hell hide you’ve got, asking a question like, like, like THAT, you nosey *#@*! journalist.  Anyway, anyway, I’ll tell ya.  Okay?  I’ll tell ya, y’knowudimen.  A big fat, okay?  A big fat NO.  Is that clear enough, y’idiot?” said Mrs Jones.

Direct quote:  “****ing hell,” Mrs Jones said. “What the damn hell hide you’ve got asking a question like that, you nosey ****ing journalist.  Anyway I’ll tell you.  A big fat no.  Is that clear enough, you idiot?”

Indirect quote:  Mrs Jones was angered by my question, swore twice and said the answer was no.

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