Indirect Speech in Spanish Grammar

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What is estilo indirecto?

Reported speech or indirect speech (el estilo indirecto) is when we repeat what another person has said without directly quoting it.

This means that we often have to adapt or change certain parts of speech such as pronouns, tenses and time and place markers to reflect that we are only reporting what was said, not repeating it word-for-word.

Learn all about reported speech in Spanish with Lingolia, then practise in the interactive exercises.

Example

Alicia se encuentra en una cafetería a su amigo Juan trabajando.
Alicia: «¡Hola, Juan! ¿Cómo va todo?»
Juan: «Hola, Alicia. Pues estoy estupendamente. He empezado a trabajar aquí hace una semana. ¿Vamos un día al cine?»

Días más tarde, Alicia llama por teléfono a una amiga y le cuenta lo ocurrido:
Alicia: «Hace unos días me encontré a Juan en una cafetería. Juan dijo que estaba estupendamente y que había empezado a trabajar allí hace una semana. También me preguntó si íbamos un día al cine. ¡Menuda casualidad!»

Indirect speech in Spanish: the basics

Direct speech repeats someone’s utterance word-for-word and is placed within quotation marks (comillas: «…»).

Example:
Juan: «Estoy estupendamente».Juan “I’m great.”

Indirect speech reproduces something a person has said without quoting them exactly.

Example:
Juan dice que está estupendamente.Juan says he’s great.

Indirect speech is therefore introduced by a reporting verb such as decirsay, afirmarconfirm, contartell, exclamarexclaim, explicarexplain, preguntarask …

Sentences

Sentences in reported speech take the following form: reporting verb + que (= that)

Example:
Juan dijo que estaba estupendamente.Juan said underline">that he was doing great.

Questions

Questions in reported speech do not take question marks.

Yes-no questions (oraciones interrogativas totales) take the following form: reporting verb + si (= if)

Example:
Juan me preguntó si íbamos un día al cine.Juan asked me underline">if we’d go to the cinema one day.

When a question contains a question word (oración interrogativa parcial), we use this in place of si: reporting verb + question word

Example:
Juan me preguntó cómo está mi hermana Cecilia.Juan asked me underline">how my sister Cecilia is.

Indirect Questions

Remember: questions in indirect speech are not the same thing as indirect questions (las oraciones interrogativas indirectas).

Example:
No tengo claro a qué hora hemos quedado.I’m not sure what time we are meeting. (indirect question)

To learn more, check out our page on indirect questions in Spanish grammar.

How to change direct speech to indirect speech in Spanish

There are several parts of speech that we have to change when converting direct speech to indirect speech in Spanish.

Luckily the process is almost exactly the same as it is in English, which means you already know more than you think!

Let’s start off with a simple example in English:

Example:
Juan: “I really like this job.”
→ Juan said that he really liked that job.

In this example, we can see that the following parts of speech have changed:

  • personal pronouns (I → he)
  • verb (like → liked)
  • demonstrative pronoun (this → that)

In Spanish, we change the exact same things (plus a few others). Let’s break them down in detail:

  • personal pronouns (yo, tú, él, ella …)
    Example:
    Juan: «(Yo) estoy estupendamente».Juan→ Juan dijo que (él) estaba estupendamente.He said that underline">he was great.
    1st person to 3rd
  • possessives (mi, tu, su …)
Example:
Juan: «Cómo está tu hermana Cecilia?».Juan “How is → Juan me preguntó cómo estaba mi hermana Cecilia.He asked me how underline">my sister Cecilia is.
2nd person to 1st
Example:
Juan: «Me gusta mucho este trabajo»Juan “I really like → Juan dijo que le gustaba mucho ese trabajo.Juan said that he really liked underline">that job.
  • information about place and time
Example:
Juan: «He empezado a trabajar aquí hace una semana».Juan “I started working → Juan dijo que había empezado a trabajar allí hacía una semana.Juan said that he had started working underline">there a week ago.
  • the verb changes its person and tense (more info on this below)
    Example:
    Juan: «Estoy estupendamente».Juan “I → Juan dijo que estaba estupendamente.Juan said that he underline">was doing great.
    1st person to 3rd; present tense to imperfect

Changing the tense in indirect speech

When moving from direct to indirect speech, we often have to change the tense of the verb.

Whether we have to change the tense depends on the tense of the reporting verb.

No change in tense

The tense in the indirect speech stays the same if the reporting verb is in the present, future or perfect tense (él cuenta, él contará, él ha contado). The person still changes.

Example:
Juan: «Estoy estupendamente».Juan “I’m great.” (present tense)
→ Juan dice que está estupendamente.Juan says he’s great. (present tense)

Exception: the imperative

The imperative is a special case. Even if the reporting verb is in the present or perfect, the imperative does not remain the same in the indirect speech; it changes to become the present subjunctive.

Example:
Juan: «Vamos al cine un día de estos».Juan “Let’s go to the cinema one of these days.”
→ Juan me dice/ha dicho que vayamos al cine un día de estos.Juan says/has said to me that we should go to the cinema one of these days.”
reporting verb in the present/perfect = present subjunctive in indirect speech

However, when the reporting verb is in the past, the imperative behaves like other tenses and changes to the imperfect subjunctive in indirect speech.

Example:
Juan me dijo que fuéramos al cine un día de estos.Juan said to me that we should go to the cinema one of these days.

When to change the tense in indirect speech

When the reporting verb is in the preterite, imperfect or past perfect (él contó, el contaba, el había contado), the tense of the indirect speech moves back one. This is known as backshifting.

Example:
Juan: «Empecé la semana pasada».Juan “I started last week.” (preterite tense)
→ Juan dijo que había empezado la semana anterior.Juan said that he had started the week before. (past perfect tense)
reporting verb in the preterite = tense change in the indirect speech

The table below shows how to backshift the tense from direct speech to indirect speech when you have a reporting verb in the past.

Direct Speech Indirect Speech Example
Present imperfect

«Estoy estupendamente».

→ Juan dijo que estaba estupendamente.“I’m great.”
→ Juan said that he was great.

Preterite Past Perfect

«He empezado la semana pasada».

→ Juan dijo que había empezado la semana anterior.“I’ve paid the bill.”
→ Juan said that he had started the week before.

Perfect
Past Perfect
Imperfect imperfect
(no change)

«El helada estaba muy rico».

→ Andrea dijo que el helado estaba muy rico.“The ice cream was delicious.”
→ Andrea said that the ice cream was delicious.

Future Conditional

«Avisaré a Marina».

→ Andrea dijo que avisaría a Marina.“I will let Marina know.”
→ Andrea said that she would let Marina know.

Conditional
Future Perfect Conditional Perfect

«Habré perdido el monedero».

→ Andrea dijo que habría perdido el monedero.I must have lost my wallet.”
→ Andrea said that she must have lost her wallet.

Conditional Perfect
imperative Imperfect Subjunctive

«Quedemos algún día».

→ Juan sugirió que quedaran algùn día.“Let’s meet up one day.”
→ Juan suggested that they meet up one day.

Present Subjunctive
Imperfect Subjunctive
Perfect Subjunctive Past Perfect Subjunctive

«Quizá haya olvidado el monedero en casa».

→ Andrea pensó que quizá hubiera/hubiese olvidado el monedero en casa.“Maybe I left my wallet at home.”
→ Andrea thought that maybe she had left her wallet at home.

Changing information about place and time

Time and place references have to be adapted in indirect speech.

Example:
Juan: «Empecé a trabajar aquí la semana pasada».Juan I started working → Juan dice que empezó a trabajar allí la semana anterior.Juan says that he started working underline">there the week before.

The table below shows how to convert time and place references from direct speech to indirect speech.

Direct Speech Indirect Speech
hoy aquel día
ahora entonces
ayer el día anterior
la semana pasada la semana anterior
el próximo año al año siguiente
mañana al día siguiente
aquí allí
este/a … aquello/a …