Direct speech in Italian
Discorso indiretto or direct speech is spoken or written text that reports speech or thought in its original form phrased by the original speaker.
Compare these two examples:
Marco mi disse: “Ti voglio bene”.
Marco said to me, “I love you”.
Marco mi disse che mi voleva bene.
Marco said to me that he loved me.
The first sentence is an example of direct speech, whereas the second one is an example of indirect speech.
Let’s dive deeper into the topic!
Direct speech in Italian: common verbs
In Italian narrative, verbs of utterance (verbs that express speech or introduce a quotation) tend to be in passato remoto.
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You may not be familiar with this tense since it’s not widely common in spoken Italian and is not usually taught to foreign students.
In fact, we mainly find it in written texts, such as in literature and historical texts.
The passato remoto is common in the South of Italy since some Southern dialects don’t have the equivalent of the passato prossimo (which is the most common past tense in Italian) so they’re more used to the passato remoto.
Let’s have a look at the most common verbs of utterance in the passato remoto:
- Chiedere (to ask):
io chiesi, tu chiedesti, lui/lei chiese, noi chiedemmo, voi chiedeste, loro chiesero
- Dichiare (to state):
io dichiarai, tu dichiarasti, lui/lei dichiarò, noi dichiarammo, voi dichiaraste, loro dichiararono
- Dire (to say):
io dissi, tu dicesti, lui/lei disse, noi dicemmo, voi diceste, loro dissero
- Esclamare (to exclaim):
io esclamai, tu esclamasti, lui/lei esclamò, noi esclamammo, voi esclamaste, loro esclamarono
- Rispondere(to reply):
io risposi, tu rispondesti, lui/lei rispose, noi rispondemmo, voi rispondeste, loro risposero
- Ripetere (to repeat):
io ripetei, tu ripetesti, lui/lei ripeté, noi ripetemmo, voi ripeteste, loro ripeterono
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Direct speech in Italian: rules
In writing, direct speech in Italian is usually preceded by a colon (:), and enclosed in guillemets («and») or quotation marks (“and”) or, or delimited by a long dash (—).
The guillemets are called caporali in Italian and are the traditional Italian quotation mark glyphs. Quotation marks are called virgolette and frequently replace the traditional caporali.
All of the above-mentioned signs are equally acceptable, as long as they are used in a consistent way.
Italian is much less standardized than English and this particularly affects punctuation. These stylistic decisions are left to the taste, style, and tradition of individual publishers.
In contemporary Italian, especially in more ‘free’ text types (journalistic writing, literary prose, etc.), these signs might even be omitted.
Like in English, we capitalize the first letter of the first word inside a quote.
However, unlike in English, commas and periods are placed outside the quote marks when writing in Italian.
Have a look at this example and its translation keeping in mind all the rules we just mentioned:
Marcello mi disse: «Vorrei andare in Francia».
Marcello said to me, “I’d like to go to France.”