A Simple Lesson on Direct vs Indirect Spanish
You may be surprised to learn that the way direct vs indirect Spanish works is quite similar to the way direct vs indirect English does.
In both languages direct speech makes use of quotes and keeps things simple. However, sometimes speaking in direct speech sounds a bit weird or “robot-like.” And that’s why you need to learn how to use indirect speech too.
In this post, I’ll answer the question of direct vs indirect Spanish—what is direct and indirect speech and how does it work? Then I’ll explore the grammar particularities of indirect speech, with lots of examples, as well as some new vocabulary.
Direct vs Indirect Spanish
What’s the direct vs indirect Spanish discussion about? Well, it’s basically a topic about two different ways of communicating what another person said.
These two distinct “ways of communicating” are also known as “direct speech” or “direct style,” and “indirect speech,” “indirect style,” or even “reported speech.” In Spanish, they’re simply known as estilo directo and estilo indirecto.
On the direct vs indirect Spanish argument, the easy part is learning direct speech. If you’ve ever used quotes to repeat the exact same words of another person, then you already know how to use it.
Direct speech works the same way both in English and Spanish, with just a small change in punctuation—from a colon in Spanish to a comma in English.
Let’s see some examples of direct speech.
El maestro dijo: “La tarea se entrega el viernes.”
The teacher said, “The homework is due on Friday.”
“Eres mi mejor amigo,” dijo María.
“You’re my best friend,” Maria said.
Simple, right? Let’s see now the other side of the direct vs indirect Spanish debate: indirect speech.
Indirect speech is a little more complicated than direct speech. However, in real life conversations it’s more common to use indirect speech, so it’s crucial that you get it right.
If we’re talking about direct vs indirect Spanish, the direct part only requires you to remember to add quotation marks. However, on the indirect part there are quite a few moving parts, grammar rules, and specific changes that you need to remember.
Let’s take a look at them!
Indirect Spanish Grammar Structure
When you’re comparing direct vs indirect Spanish, you need to focus on dissecting the indirect Spanish grammar structure and all its variables.
Indirect Speech Formula
If you you want to report either a command, a statement, or a question in Spanish, you need to use a simple formula:
Subject + Verb + Object
El maestro quiere que Miguel (subject) repita (verb) el examen (object).
The teacher wants Miguel to repeat the exam.
Mamá dijo que Carlos (subject) podía (verb) venir (object).
Mom said that Carlos could come.
Mónica pregunta si tú (subject) tienes (verb) su teléfono (object).
Monica asks if you have her phone.
At this point, it’s important to mention that subject pronouns and verbs need to adapt to agree with the new subject in indirect speech.
Alejandra dijo: “(yo) soy la mejor.”
Alejandra said: “I’m the best.”
Alejandra dijo que (ella) es la mejor.
Alejandra said that she’s the best.
Notice how in the direct speech sentence the subject is yo, and the verb is conjugated in the first person singular: soy. While in the indirect speech sentence the subject is ella, and the verb is conjugated in the third person singular: es.
The Importance of ‘Que’ on Indirect Speech
Notice how in the first two examples given above, there is a que located just before the subject. I would have included this little word in the indirect speech formula, if it wasn’t for the way questions behave as indirect speech in Spanish. But que is there to be found in every other indirect speech construction:
El presidente dice que el país está mejor.
The president says that the country is better now.
Karla confesó que ya no lo ama.
Karla confessed that she doesn’t love him anymore.
Papá me pidió que lavara su carro.
Dad asked me to wash his car.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a statement or a command, the word que will always be there (even if in English you may avoid its equivalent “that”).
Questions and Question Words
In indirect Spanish you may find two kinds of questions: “yes or no questions,” and “question word questions”. In the first case, you don’t need to use que, instead you have to use si (if, whether):
Mamá quiere saber si fuiste al dentista.
Mom wants to know if you went to the dentist.
Mis alumnos me preguntaron si habría examen.
My students asked me if there will be an exam.
The second case works a little bit differently.
In Spanish, the question words include: qué (what), quién (who), cuál (which), cuánto (how much), cuándo (when), cómo (how), dónde (where), and por qué (why).
When you are using indirect speech and one of these question words arise, all you have to do is to substitute the si of the “yes or no questions” with the required question word.
El maestro quiere saber dónde estás.
The teacher wants to know where you are.
Carlos cuestiona quién hizo esto.
Carlos questions who did this.
Finally, if you’re using the verb preguntar (to ask) in indirect speech you may add an extra que before the question word. However, if you don’t add this que the structure of the sentence is also correct.
Papá pregunta que cómo te sientes.
Dad asks how are you.
Juan pregunta que qué quieres de regalo.
Juan asks what you want as a present.
On the direct vs indirect Spanish topic, there are a few verbs that you have to use to repeat what someone else said. These verbs are known as “reporting verbs” and you can use them either in direct or indirect speech.
Decir – to say
Mi jefe me dijo que estaba despedido.
My boss said that I was fired.
Preguntar – to ask
Jorge pregunta que cuándo llegaste.
Jorge asks when you arrived.
Querer – to want
Martha quiere que la visites.
Martha wants you to visit her.
Explicar – to explain
“El apagón se debe a las bajas temperaturas,” explicó el presidente.
“The blackout is due to the low temperature,” the president explained.
Afirmar – to assert
“Perdimos por culpa del árbitro,” afirmó el entrenador.
“We lost because of the referee,” the coach asserted.
Other common reporting verbs in Spanish include:
añadir – to add
declarar – to declare
insistir – to insist
sostener – to maintain
contestar – to answer
pedir – to ask
anunciar – to announce
asegurar – to assure
negar – to deny
comentar – to comment
prometer – to promise
recordar – to remind
Remember when I said above that in indirect speech the verbs need to adapt to reflect the new subject? Well, verbs also change tenses sometimes in indirect speech.
If the verb in the main clause is in the present tense, there are no changes to be made:
Papá dice: “Tengo hambre.”
Dad says, “I’m hungry.”
Papá dice que tiene hambre.
Dad says he’s hungry.
Notice how both verbs decir and tener are in the present tense, both in the direct speech sentence as in the indirect speech one.
However, when the reporting verb is conjugated in the past tense, you have to be careful as indirect speech becomes a little bit more complicated, as the verb in the subordinate clause needs to change:
Papá dijo: “Tengo hambre.”
Dad said, “I’m hungry.”
Papá dijo que tenía hambre.
Dad said he was hungry.
Notice how in direct speech the reporting verb “dijo” is in simple past tense or preterite, while the second one “tengo” is in present tense. However, in indirect speech the second verb “tenía” is conjugated in the imperfect.
The most common indirect speech tense change in the reported fragment is from present simple to imperfect, as in the example given above. But, there are a couple of other tense changes that you need to take into consideration:
Preterite to Pluscuamperfecto
Erika dijo: ”El año pasado fui a París.”
Erika said, “Last year I went to Paris.”
Erika dijo que había ido a París el año pasado.
Erika said she had gone to Paris last year.
Future simple to Conditional
Mamá dijo: “Comeré más tarde.”
Mom said: “I will eat later.”
Mamá dijo que comería más tarde.
Mom said she would eat later.
Direct vs Indirect Spanish Conclusion
Learning how to choose between direct vs indirect Spanish and to use them correctly is a process that starts by learning the grammar rules, as you did today. But, in reality, the only way to master indirect speech is by practicing it. Only when you apply these rules in real-life conversations, you’ll start noticing when a pronoun needs to be changed or a tense is incorrectly used.
Sign up for a free class with one of our certified, native Spanish-speaking teachers, and start choosing between direct vs indirect Spanish today!
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