Good afternoon,

It seems that when it comes to indirect speech in Spanish, back-shifting of tenses occurs, just like in English (I am going...= He said he was going...). Below is a link with grammar rules for Spanish indirect speech, for reference. https://www.lawlessspanish.com/grammar/indirect-speech/

BUT in English it is also possible to start indirect speech construction with present tense and it would not employ back-shifting (in case on present or future events). Example below:

I LIVE in London = She SAYS she LIVES in London.

For events that happened in the past, I believe this would not work because it is logical to put all verbs in the past: I bought a car. = She said that she bought a car (NOT "She says that she bought a car)

Also, sometimes English native speakers go against rules in order to express idea better and be understood. Examples below:

Sun RISES in the East = My teacher TOLD me that Sun RISES in the East. [for common-sense things]

Bus LEAVES 10 minutes earlier today = Jay TOLD me that bus LEAVES 10 minutes earlier today. [to avoid confusion that bus already left that would be in case "bus LEFT 10 minutes earlier today].

Is it possible in Spanish everyday usage to break the rules in same manner, in similar circumstances? I have found one link which potentially shows it is possible. Below is an example example with a link:

La mujer de Raúl Martins dice que vive en una torre de lujo en Cancún pero trabaja como empleada.


So I got the feeling now that it can work, but only for present tense (like in English).

Please correct me if I am wrong. And will appreciate your answers.

  • Since what goes on in Spanish and English is so similar for this topic, I took a look at what's available at ELU, and found a doozie: english.stackexchange.com/q/16388/112436. This may be helpful for you, in addition to the great answer from @pablodf76. – aparente001 Aug 19 '19 at 4:03
  • Thank you for this, it was helpful indeed! – Alex Aug 20 '19 at 8:02

No rules are being broken in your examples (in English or in Spanish). A couple of things are happening, though:

  1. In the examples using the reporting verb in the present tense, this tense might be used instead of the past even though the action is in the past, but this is allowed and extremely common. Suppose you saw your friend yesterday, and today I ask you where she lives, and you reply: "She says she lives in London". Strictly speaking you should have said "She said" (or "She told me"), in the past, but the present tense isn't always, or mostly, about things really happening right now. This is true for English and even more so for Spanish, where "historical present" is very common.

  2. It's also possible to use the present to refer to the future, so “Jay me dijo que el bus sale diez minutos más temprano hoy” is also correct. Logically we should say “el bus saldrá diez minutos más temprano” (future), but this is obviously not necessary because the context is enough to resolve the ambiguity.

  3. You can mix tenses, in Spanish as in English, if you respect certain logical rules. For example, it's perfectly OK to say in Spanish, “Mi profesora dijo que el sol sale por el este”. The Sun rises in the east every day, and habitual events are one of the uses of the present tense. Your teacher told that to you yesterday or last week, so naturally you use the preterit for the reporting verb. You could also use the present, though (“Mi profesora dice que el sol sale por el este”), as in (1).

In Spanish, as in English, when the reporting verb is in the past tense and the reported action was finished in the past, you sometimes need to use a "past of the past" tense, which in English corresponds to the "past perfect" tense, and in Spanish is called pretérito pluscuamperfecto: e.g. “Ella dijo que me había llamado” ("She said she had called me"). In many cases, though, you can leave both verbs in the preterit: “Ella dijo que me llamó”, because the temporal sequence is obvious.

There are many more valid possibilities (preterit with imperfect, preterit with progressive, imperfect with imperfect, imperfect with progressive, imperfect with perfect progressive, future with conditional, etc.), all of which have equivalents in English that are also valid.

| improve this answer | |
  • I got this clear now. Thank you very much for thorough explanation! ) – Alex Aug 18 '19 at 22:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.