Reported speech can be intimidating at first glance, but it can also prove to be a lifesaver when you need it. It is all about announcing, passing along, or repeating what someone else says, whether it’s something you heard in a podcast, news your friend just shared with you, or simply a comment that someone made.
Let’s take an example to illustrate how indirect speech works. Your Latin American friend invites you to a family meal. You’re sitting down at the table surrounded by six cousins, four aunts, and five uncles. The baby is crying, the music is loud, the children are laughing, and there are three different conversations taking place at the same time. Suddenly the abuelita sitting next to you asks you what a certain person said… What do you do? Well, you’d take a deep breath and use your reported speech skills, even if you are a little unsure because you know you can’t leave grandma without an answer!
Reporting what someone has said can prove useful in a wide range of situations, as you can see. In this lesson, I will show you how to easily use this grammar in everyday conversation. So let’s get started!
Reported speech in Spanish: estilo directo e indirecto
Before diving into indirect speech (or estilo indirecto), you should know that there is another useful way of repeating information: direct speech or estilo directo.
If you choose to report a statement, question or command, using estilo directo, you’ll have to repeat all the words exactly as you heard them (like a parrot would), using quotation marks. Take a look at this example:
Mom: “La comida está lista”. (“The food is ready”).
You: Ella dijo: “La comida está lista”. (She said: “The food is ready”).
As you can see, the original comment and the reported one are the same. Just like when little kids play el teléfono roto (the broken phone), but the difference is they actually get the final message right.
Now, when you use indirect speech there are some key differences you need to take into consideration. For starters, you don’t need to use quotation marks, and you’ll most likely have to make some adjustments regarding pronouns and verb tenses, which we’ll explain below. But first, let’s check the same example from above, using estilo indirecto:
Mom: “La comida está lista”.
You: Ella dice que la comida está lista. (She says that the food is ready).
Pretty simple, isn’t it? Only a few changes were made, the quotation marks were sent packing, and the word ‘que’ (that) was added.
Now that you can tell the difference between direct and indirect speech, let’s keep diving!
Indirect speech: reporting verbs
If you take a closer look at the first part of all sentences in indirect speech, you’ll probably notice some verbs like decir (to say), preguntar (to ask), or pedir (to ask). These are what we call reporting verbs, and they are the ones that lead the way for repetition. Check the following reported sentences:
- Cousin: Ella dijo que estaba en el parque. (She said she was at the park).
- Uncle: Él pregunta dónde está su franela. (He asks where his T-shirt is).
- Children: Ellos pidieron irse temprano. (They asked to leave early).
There are other reporting verbs like anunciar (to announce), comentar (to comment), and contestar (to answer), that could be very useful, too.
The use of ‘que‘
This word plays a very significant role in indirect speech. As opposed to its English version ‘that’, the word ‘que’ needs to be included, in most cases, after the reporting verb.
- Grandpa: “Quiero comer sopa” (“I want to eat soup”).
- You: Él dice que quiere comer sopa. (He says that he wants to eat soup.)
- Aunt: “El café no está listo” (The coffee isn’t ready).
- You: Ella dice que el café no está listo. (She says the coffee isn’t ready).
- Mom: “¡No toquen las empanadas!” (“Don’t touch the empanadas!”.
- You: Ella pidió que no tocaran las empanadas. (She asked not to touch the).
So try not to forget about this short yet crucial word.
Pronouns and possessives
Since you are repeating what another person said there are some tiny little changes you’ll need to make in the pronouns and possessives in order to keep the meaning of the sentence. Remember you are acting as a messenger, which means the message you are delivering is not actually from your point of view.
- Dad: “Yo quiero un pedazo de torta” (I want a piece of cake).
- You: Él dice que quiere un pedazo de torta. (He says he wants a piece of cake).
- Mom: “Dejé mi bolso en el carro” (I left my purse in the car).
- You: Ella dice que dejó su bolso en el carro. (She says she left her purse in the car).
This is the moment when you hold on to your oxygen tank and get ready to explore some slightly deeper waters with us.
So far, you’ve read several example sentences that have probably left you wondering about some changes in the tenses, and you are right! There are some differences you need to learn about. We’ll break them down into three sections: statements, questions, and commands.
When reporting a statement, the first thing you need to check is the reporting verb. If the verb is in the simple present or present perfect form, the tense in the subordinate clause (the comment you are reporting) does not change. So there you have some good news.
- Uncle: Él dice: “Necesito más hielo” (“I need more ice”).
- You: Él dice que necesita más hielo. (He says he needs more ice).
Now, when the reporting verb is expressed in the past tense, it’s time to make some adjustments to the subordinate clause:
Present simple to imperfect
- Dad: El papá dijo: “Quiero ir a bailar” (The dad said: “I want to go dancing”).
- You: Él dijo que quería ir a bailar. (He said he wanted to go dancing).
Preterite to Pluscuamperfecto (past perfect)
- Mom: Mamá dijo: “Yo preparé las empanadas”. (Mom said: “I prepared the empanadas”).
- You: Ella dijo que ella había preparado las empanadas. (She said she had prepared the empanadas).
Future simple to Conditional simple
- Aunt: La tía dijo: “Tomaré una siesta”. (The aunt said: “I will take a nap”)
- You: Ella dijo que tomaría una siesta. (She said she would take a nap).
And that’s it! Those are the changes you need to make when reporting statements.
Bonus: if the sentence you are reporting is in the imperfect, conditional or past perfect, you don’t need to change anything.
Reporting questions without a problem will be very easy for you to achieve if you remember these two simple rules:
First, yes or no questions use the word ‘si’ (if) without including the word ‘que’:
- Mom: La mamá pregunta: “¿Quieren más postre?” (The mom asks: “Do you want more dessert?”).
- You: Ella pregunta si quieren más postre. (She asks if you want more dessert).
- Kid: El niño preguntó: “¿Puedo jugar afuera?” (The kid asked: “Can I play outside?”)
- You: El niño preguntó si podía jugar afuera. (The kid asked if he could play outside).
Note: Notice how the same tense changes we just explained are applied to questions, too. Always remember to check the tense of the reporting verb so you can make the necessary adjustments.
Second, when you are going to turn an information question into indirect speech, you don’t use ‘que’ nor ‘si’, this time you use the same question word. Just like you do in English!
- Uncle: El tío pregunta: “¿Dónde está el perro?” (The uncle asks: “Where is the dog?”)
- You: Él pregunta dónde está el perro. (He asks where the dog is).
- Grandpa: El abuelo preguntó: “¿A qué hora sirven el postre?” (Grandpa asked: What time is dessert served?).
- You: Él preguntó a qué hora servían el postre. (He asked what time dessert was served).
- Cousin: La prima dijo: “¿Quién despertará a tía Clara?” (The cousin said: “Who will wake Aunt Clara up?”).
- You: Ella preguntó quién despertaría a la tía Clara. (She asked who would wake Aunt Clara up).
It turns out commands bring their own set of rules, but we are confident it won’t be a problem!
To begin with, you’ll always need to make some changes even if the reporting verb is in the simple present or present perfect form.
Imperative (orders) to present subjunctive
- Grandpa: El abuelo pide: “Tráiganme un café, por favor”. (Grandpa asks: “Bring me a coffee, please”)
- You: El abuelo pide que le traigan un café, por favor. (Grandpa asks to bring him a coffee, please).
- Grandma: La abuela pide: “Despiértenme en un rato” (Grandma asks: “Wake me up in a bit”).
- You: La abuela pide que la despierten en un rato. (Grandma asks to wake her up in a bit).
Now, there’s only one change you’ll need to make when the reporting verb is in the past tense, and it’s pretty simple. Check it out:
Imperative to imperfect subjunctive
- Mom: La mamá le dijo al niño: “Vuelve a la mesa” (The mom told the kid: “Go back to the table”).
- You: La mamá le dijo al niño que volviera a la mesa. (The mom told the kid to go back to the table).
- Dad: El papá le dijo a la niña: “Bebe agua” (The dad told the little girl: “Drink water”).
- You: El papá le dijo a la niña que bebiera agua. (The dad told the little girl to drink water).
There you have it. You did great, diver! Now you can enjoy the water for a little while. If you enjoyed this lesson on how to use indirect Speech in Spanish, sign up for our newsletter where we announce new articles.