Indirect Speech

Estilo indirecto

In Spanish, as in English, there are two different ways to express the words of another person: direct speech (or direct style) and indirect speech (indirect style).

Direct speech is very simple: the exact words of the original speaker are reported in quotes.

Pablo dice: «Quiero unas fresas».   Paul says, "I want some strawberries."
Ana pregunta: «¿Dónde está el banco?»   Ana asks, "Where is the bank?"
«No tengo dinero» explicó Juan.   "I don’t have any money," Juan explained.

In indirect speech, the original speaker’s words are reported without quotes in a subordinate clause (introduced by que). Indirect speech is more complicated than direct speech, because it requires certain changes (in both English and Spanish).

1. Subject pronouns and possessives may need to be changed:

DS Pablo dice: «(yo) quiero mi libro».   Paul says, "I want my book."
IS Pablo dice que (él) quiere su libro.   Paul says he wants his book. 

2. Verbs may need to change in two ways:

a) To agree with the new subject.

DS Pablo dice: «(yo) quiero mi libro».   Paul says, "I want my book."
IS Pablo dice que (él) quiere su libro.   Paul says he wants his book. 

b) To be in a more logical tense. When the verb in the main clause is in the present tense, there is no change in tense.

DS Pablo dice: «Quiero unas fresas».   Paul says, "I want some strawberries."
IS Paul dice que quiere unas fresas.   Paul says that he wants some strawberries. 
DS Ana pregunta: «¿Dónde está el banco?»   Ana asks, "Where is the bank?"
IS Ana pregunta dónde está el banco.   Ana asks where the bank is.

When the verb is in the past, however, indirect speech is much more complicated – the verb tense of the subordinate clause may need to change:

DS Pablo dijo: «quiero mi libro».   Paul said, "I want my book."
IS Pablo dijo que quería su libro.   Paul said he wanted his book. 
DS Ana preguntó: «¿Dónde está el banco?»   Ana asked, "Where is the bank?"
IS Ana preguntó dónde estaba el banco.   Ana asked where the bank was.

The following chart shows the correlation between verb tenses in direct and indirect speech. The left column shows the verb tenses used in direct speech and their equivalents in indirect speech. Presente/Imperfecto to imperfecto is by far the most common – you don’t need to worry too much about the rest.

Direct speech tenses   Indirect speech
Presente   Imperfecto
Imperfecto   Imperfecto
Pretérito   Pluscuamperfecto
Pluscuamperfecto   Pluscuamperfecto
Futuro   Condicional
Condicional   Condicional
Futuro perfecto   Condicional perfecto
Condicional perfecto   Condicional perfecto

Reporting verbs

Verbs that introduce indirect speech are known as reporting verbs:

afirmar   to assert
añadir   to add
contestar     to answer
declarer   to declare
decir   to say
explicar   to explain
insistir   to insist
preguntar   to ask
pretender   to claim
proclamar      to announce
sostener   to maintain