In German you have to use different moods, in English different tenses for verbs to mark indirect speech (speech where you are saying what was said or expressed):

He said that he had painted the ceiling blue

In English, the verb changes to past perfect tense; in German subjunctive is prescribed for the verb.

There seem to be no detailed rules for Spanish when I look it up on Wikipedia. So are there any common/non-mandatory rules/ways how to mark indirect speech? Or can I use any (mood/tense) I choose in a phrase like

He said that...

  • Do modus and tempus refer to mode and tense?
    – jrdioko
    Nov 18, 2011 at 18:53
  • I think modus is mood and tempus is tense. I think the question is too vague and the example with just the first three words is missing something important. @Hauser can you flesh out the question. Are you just asking for translation like Randolf gave in his answer? Or are you trying to ask something else? Nov 18, 2011 at 21:08
  • 1
    Much better now thanks Hauser! I personally wouldn't mind if you also included a German example. Nov 19, 2011 at 9:21

1 Answer 1


Indirect speech in Spanish is called the «discurso indirecto», or the «voz indirecto» or «estilo indirecto». The indirect pattern is in effect whenever you paraphrase something was was said, expressed, written, indicated, implied, or otherwise communicated. In English it includes sentences like,

  • He told me that she was staring at me.

but not,

  • He told me, "that girl was staring at you."

Spanish tenses typically follow a sequence in indirect speech. Usually indirect speech has a main verb in the past tense. You could also say in present tense, "he tells me what she says about me," and in Spanish you can follow the present main verb with whichever tense is appropriate.

Past tense main verbs are a little more complicated. The dependent clause verb that was actually spoken ("stare" in the english examples above) has to change tense. With decir in the preterite (the most common case; pluperfect works the same):

Present changes to imperfect.

  • Me dijo, "ella te mira." ==> Me dijo que ella me miraba.

Preterite changes to pluperfect (pluscuamperfecto).

  • Me dijo, "ella te miró." ==> Me dijo que ella me había mirado.

Imperfect and pluperfect stay the same.

  • Me dijo, "ella te miraba." ==> Me dijo que ella me miraba.
  • Me dijo, "ella te había mirado." ==> Me dijo que ella me había mirado.

Future and conditional could both become conditional. (see next rule)

  • Me dijo, "ella te va a mirar." ==> Me dijo que me miraría.
  • Me dijo, "ella te miraría." ==> Me dijo que me miraría.

But it's more fluid to use paraphrasim (paráfrasis) with conditional and future,

  • Me dijo, "ella te va a mirar." ==> Me dijo que me iba a mirar.
  • Me dijo, "ella te miraría." ==> Me dijo que me iba a mirar.

There is no circumstance that calls for a preterite verb to follow another,

  • Don't: Me dijo que ella me miró. Bad

These sentences follow very similar but not exactly identical rules in English. Check out the examples far above to see and you can make up a few of your own and listen to the progression of tenses.

The imperative and subjunctive follow the usual sequence of subjunctive tenses in the past:

Imperative and present subjunctive change to imperfect subjunctive.

  • Me dijo, "habla con ella." ==> Me dijo que hablara con ella.

Past subjunctives change to pluperfect subjunctive

  • Me dijo, "perdiste la oportunidad; Que hayas podido hablar con ella." ==> Me dijo que había perdido la oportunidad; que hubiera podido hablar con ella.

Spanish Wikipedia link: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discurso_directo_e_indirecto

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