If you ever find yourself telling a story (or simply gossiping), you may need to quote what someone has said to you in Spanish.
To do this, you will need to use el estilo indirecto, which is known as the indirect style or reported speech in English.
When you want to quote what someone has said or asked you, you need to decide if you are going to quote them directly or indirectly. The easier of the two options is a direct quote.
For example, imagine a friend, Sandra, tells you this:
“I am pregnant.”
You then want to relay that information to someone else. You could directly quote Sandra like this:
“Sandra said ‘I am pregnant’.”
Or alternatively, you may prefer to quote Sandra indirectly:
“Sandra told me that she was pregnant.”
From this example, you can see that directly quoting someone can be a little risky.
If you are chatting with a friend and you choose the first option but the person misses the “Sandra said” part, you may find yourself with the awkward task of explaining that it was, in fact, someone else that was pregnant and not you.
Instead, in this context, it would be safer to quote indirectly by including a “she was” in your quote.
When using the indirect style, you may also notice, you have to change the present tense to the past tense—’I am‘ to ‘she was‘.
In this post, you’ll learn how to use el estilo indirecto including how to change tenses, which verbs you need to be careful with, and how to change possessive adjectives.
Estilo indirecto in the present tense
The first step for learning el estilo indirecto in Spanish is to practice transmitting quotes in the present tense.
In Spanish, just like English, you can quote directly:
English: She says “…”.
Español: Ella dice “…”.
Or you can quote indirectly, notice the key change is the addition of que:
English: She says that … .
Español: Ella dice que … .
As I mentioned earlier, the direct style is easier because you don’t have to change what was said. You can simply quote word for word.
For example, imagine you have a son and he says:
English: I’m hungry.
Español: Tengo hambre.
You then want to relay that information to your partner. When talking about your son you could quote directly:
English: He says “I’m hungry”.
Español: Él dice “tengo hambre”.
Or if you wanted to use the indirect style, you would need to change the conjugation from the first person to the third person. You can quote indirectly as follows:
English: He says that he is hungry.
Español: Él dice que tiene hambre.
Another example—you are waiting for someone and they call to say they are going to be late:
English: I’m going to be late.
Español: Voy a llegar tarde.
You want to tell the person you are with that your friend just said he is going to be late, to quote indirectly you need to say:
English: He says that he is going to be late.
Español: Él dice que va a llegar tarde.
In addition to the above examples, the indirect style in Spanish can also be used to relay a question.
But instead of que, you need to use si (if).
For example, your friend asks you:
English: Are you tired?
Español: ¿Estás cansada?
And then someone else asks you “what did they just ask you?”, you could relay the question indirectly as follows:
English: She asks if I am tired.
Español: Ella pregunta si estoy cansada.
To quickly summarise thus far, if you want to quote a statement indirectly, use the Spanish verb decir with the conjunction que. If you want to quote a question indirectly use preguntar and si.
Next, let’s look at how you should change possessive adjectives when using the estilo indirecto.
Estilo indirecto and possessive adjectives
Here is a list of the Spanish possessive adjectives:
|His / Hers / Their||Su|
When you are transferring information using the Spanish indirect style, on top of changing verb conjugations, you also have to change the possessive adjective.
For example, someone could say:
English: I don’t have your phone number.
Español: No tengo tu número de teléfono.
If you wanted to tell another person what is being said you could say:
English: He says that he doesn’t have my phone number.
Español: Él dice que no tiene mi número de teléfono.
Working out which possessive adjective you have to use and whether the verb needs to change conjugation requires careful thought. Here is another example:
English: This is our new house.
Español: Esta es nuestra nueva casa.
To tell someone else what is being said, you should say:
English: She says that this is their new house.
Español: Ella dice que esta es su nueva casa.
Notice that the verb doesn’t change in this example. This is because the subject is in the third person (esta) in both sentences. But, the possessive adjective changes from nuestra (our) to su (their).
As an aside, if you are trying to remember whether it’s ser vs estar for possession—the rule is it’s always ser. Also if you are wondering whether it should be nuestra nueva casa or nuestra casa nueva, check out this article on Spanish adjectives for figuring out Spanish adjective order.
Estilo indirecto in the past tense
Now we are at the part where el estilo indirecto can get a little more complicated.
Here is how you should quote indirectly in the past:
English: She said that … .
Español: Ella dijo que … .
Or with a question:
English: She asked if … .
Español: Ella preguntó si … .
Whenever you relay information about what was said in the past you need to be very careful when changing the verb tense.
At the start, I gave the example of ‘she said she was pregnant’, even though she is still pregnant right now, you have to change ‘is’ to ‘was’ because the indirect information was transferred in the past.
So the question is, what tense do you use in Spanish when transferring information in the past: the past simple or the past imperfect?
The answer: it depends!
If a statement was made in the present tense, for the indirect message, you have to change the conjugated verb to the past imperfect tense. If a statement was made in the past imperfect, you don’t need to change it at all. If it was made in the past simple, you can choose between two options—the past simple or the past perfect.
The following table explains all of the verb changes you need to make:
|#||Original Message Tense||Indirect Message Tense|
|2||Past imperfect||No change|
|3||Past simple||Past simple / past perfect|
|4||Present perfect||Past simple / past perfect|
|5||Past perfect||No change|
Here are some examples with all of these verb changes for indirect speech in action:
1. The original message is in the present tense
From the table above you can see that all present tense messages indirectly relayed from the past need to change to the past imperfect.
I’ll start with the pregnant example from earlier. Here is the original message:
English: I’m pregnant.
Español: Estoy embarazada.
To transfer this statement to someone else the following day, you could say:
English: Sandra said that she was pregnant.
Español: Sandra dijo que estaba embarazada.
And the example with the child being hungry:
English: I’m hungry.
Español: Tengo hambre.
If you wanted to transfer this sentence at some time in the future, you could say:
English: He said that he was hungry.
Español: Él dijo que tenía hambre.
2. The original message is in the past imperfect tense
When you are relaying a message that was said in the past imperfect, you don’t have to change the tense. But, you will probably still need to change the person.
Imagine you tell someone that you didn’t use to like cheese when you were younger, and they couldn’t believe it so they ask again to confirm:
English: You didn’t use to like cheese?
Español: ¿No te gustaba el queso?
You could then relay that question to someone else like this:
English: She asked if I didn’t use to like cheese.
Español: Ella preguntó si no me gustaba el queso.
3. The original message is in the past simple tense
When the original message is in the past simple tense, you may hear the indirect message in either the past simple or past perfect tense.
For example, if your friend José said:
English: Last week, I went to the mountains.
Español: La semana pasada, fui a la montaña.
And you wanted to transmit that message using the estilo indirecto, you could say:
English: José said that last week he went to the mountains.
Español: José dijo que la semana pasada fue a la montaña.
But, you may also hear the past perfect being used to relay this statement:
English: José said that last week he had gone to the mountains.
Español: José dijo que la semana pasada había ido a la montaña.
4. The original message is in the present perfect tense
For relaying a message in the present perfect you must use the past perfect tense.
Imagine your friends, Juan and Carla, tell you:
English: This morning, we found a new cafe.
Español: Esta mañana, hemos encontrado una nueva cafetería.
And you have to tell someone else, you could say:
English: Juan and Carla said that they had found a new cafe.
Español: Juan y Carla dijeron que habían encontrado un nueva cafetería.
5. The original message is in the past perfect tense
When the original message is in the past perfect tense, you don’t have to change the tense, you only have to change the person.
Imagine you have a friend that is going to do something dangerous or strange, then when you question him he says:
English: I had done it before.
Español: Lo había hecho antes.
Using el estilo indirecto, you could say:
English: He said that he had done it before.
Español: Él dijo que lo había hecho antes.
6. The original message is in the future tense
If you want to change a statement made in the past, about the future, you need to change the future tense to the conditional tense.
Imagine a Spanish friend of yours says:
English: I will start to study English tomorrow.
Español: Empezaré a estudiar inglés mañana.
Then later, using the indirect style to share the comment with someone else, you have to say:
English: He said that he would start to study English the following day.
Español: Él dijo que empezaría a estudiar inglés al día siguiente.
Notice that mañana had to change to al día siguiente. There are a few changes that you also have to make with reference to time periods. I’ll go through these in the last section below.
7. The original message is in the conditional tense
The last tense that I’m going to cover in this overview of el estilo indirecto is the conditional tense. Just like the past imperfect and past perfect tenses, you don’t have to change the tense, just the person.
For example, a few friends say:
English: We would like to go to the center of town tonight.
Español: Nos gustaría ir al centro esta noche.
To tell someone else, you can say:
English: They said that they would like to go to the center of town tonight.
Español: Ellos dijeron que les gustaría ir al centro esta noche.
Verbs you have to be careful with using el estilo indirecto
There are four verbs you have to use thoughtfully when relaying a message in the indirect style. These are:
|Original Message Tense||Indirect Message Tense|
So, for example, when the original message contains the verb ir, the indirect message would need to replace ir with venir.
But, these changes only occur in certain situations.
A great example for demonstrating these changes would be an imaginary dinner party that you are hosting.
When talking about the time a Spanish friend Paco said he is going to arrive:
English: I’ll go to your house at 8 pm.
Español: Iré a tu casa a las 8.
To explain this to someone at the party, you could say:
English: Paco said that he would come at 8 pm.
Español: Paco dijo que vendría a las 8.
Here you would have to change the simple future tense to the conditional and the verb ir to venir.
As an example with the other two verbs, Paco could also have said:
English: I’ll bring a bottle of wine.
Español: Llevaré una botella de vino.
To relay this, you could say:
English: Paco said that he will bring a bottle of wine.
Español: Paco dijo que traería una botella de vino.
I mentioned that these four verbs only change in certain situations. I chose an imaginary dinner party at your house because the verbs will only change when the message relates to where you are—in this case, your house.
If you were relaying a message about Paco going anywhere other than where you currently are, then you would keep ir in the indirect message.
Adverb changes with the indirect style
In this last section, you will learn how to change adverbs of time when using the indirect style.
Here is a summary of the changes:
|Original Message Adverb||Indirect Message Adverb|
|Mañana||Al día siguiente|
|Ayer||El día anterior|
|Luego, después||Más tarde|
To demonstrate these changes in action, someone could say:
English: Today is my birthday.
Español: Hoy es mi cumpleaños.
In el estilo indirecto, you could say:
English: She said that that day was her birthday.
Español: Ella dijo que aquel día era su cumpleaños.
Here is an example for mañana:
English: I don’t want to go to school tomorrow.
Español: No quiero ir a la escuela mañana.
To relay this message, you could say:
English: He said that he didn’t want to go to school the following day.
Español: Él dijo que no quería ir a la escuela al día siguiente.
For yesterday, if someone said:
English: I spoke with Alejandro yesterday.
Español: Hablé con Alejandro ayer.
Then you could quote this indirectly like this:
English: She said she had spoken with Alejandro the previous day.
Español: Ella dijo que había hablado con Alejandro el día anterior.
An example for ahora:
English: Now I’m very busy.
Español: Ahora estoy muy ocupado.
As an indirect quote for this original message, say:
English: He said that he was very busy then.
Español: Él dijo que estaba muy ocupado entonces.
Lastly, for después, an original message:
English: I will help you later.
Español: Te ayudaré después.
And in el estilo indirecto, you can say:
English: He said that he would help me later.
Español: Él dijo que me ayudaría más tarde.
I suggest you learn el estilo indirecto in multiple stages. Start with transferring quotes and questions in the present tense. Then build up by relaying information in the past using the rules above.
Like everything in language learning, the key is to use what you have learned. The best training ground is a real-world conversation because this will help make it stick.
What information will you share using el estilo indirecto?