What is a reported speech in grammar

Indirect speech in German grammar

When do you use indirect speech in German?

When we report what someone has said, we usually do not use the original wording (verbatim speech), but only reproduce the content accordingly - we use that indirect speech. We find this form very often in the press or the news when statements by third parties are repeated accordingly.

Indirect speech is introduced by phrases.

He said), …
She means), …
He claimed), …
She states / stated ...
He explained), …
She told), …
He realized, …
She asked), …
He reported), …


How do you convert direct to indirect speech?

When converting from direct to indirect speech, we need to keep the following points in mind:

  • We may need to change the pronouns.
    He said, "I saw a TV presenter."
    → He said that he saw a TV presenter.
  • We need to adjust the verb form (use subjunctive).
    He said, "She ate an ice cream."
    → He said that she had an ice cream.
  • We need to change the location and time if necessary.
    He said, "She was here yesterday."
    → He said that she was there the day before.

Statements in indirect speech

We can use statements in indirect speech with that or without conjunction or append to the opening sentence.

Let's start indirect speech with that, the finite verb is at the end of the sentence.

He said that he saw a TV presenter.

If we start indirect speech without a conjunction, there is a completely normal main clause after the comma (in the subjunctive). This form is especially common when several sentences follow one another in indirect speech without a new introductory sentence in between.

He said he saw a TV presenter. She was there the day before and had an ice cream.

Question sentences in indirect speech

We introduce supplementary questions in indirect speech with the question word.

I asked, "What did she look like?"
→ I asked how she looked / looked.

For decision-making questions (questions without a question word), we start indirect speech with if.

I asked, "Did she tip you?"
→ I asked if she gave him a tip.

(see also indirect questions)

Requests / requests in indirect speech

When prompting in indirect speech, we usually use the modal verbshould. If we want to sound particularly polite, let's take it to like (mainly high-level language).

He said to me: "Don't be so curious!"
→ He said I should / shouldn't be so curious.
He said to the guest: "Please come back a little later."
→ He said that the guest should come back a little later, please.

However, we can also express requests and requests with an infinitive clause. We may have to choose a different introductory sentence for this.

He told me not to be so curious.
→ He asked the guest to come back a little later, please.

Why use the subjunctive in indirect speech?

In everyday language, we very often use indirect speech in German in the indicative. In the written and advanced language, however, we should use the subjunctive. This has the following reasons:

  • We use indicative, one could conclude from this that we believe or agree with the original speaker.
    Walter says that he is sick.
    Walter says he's sick.
  • We use conjunctive, it becomes clear that we are only repeating what the original speaker said (whether we believe him or not). The subjunctive is therefore a neutral form, which is why indirect speech is always given in the subjunctive in news and newspaper articles.
    Walter says that he was sick.
    Walter says he's sick.

How do you convert the times into indirect speech?

When we render indirect speech in the subjunctive, we usually use the forms of the subjunctive I (unless this agrees with the indicative, see Using the subjunctive II and would below).

Use of subjunctive II and "would"

If one form of the subjunctive matches the indicative, we have to switch to other forms in order to make it clear that all forms are subjunctive.

  • If the form of the subjunctive I matches the indicative, we take the subjunctive II. This is especially the case with the 1st person singular (I) as well as the 1st and 3rd person plural (we She). Often we also prefer in the 2nd person (you, her) the subjunctive II.
    He said: "You have been waiting for us."
    He said they were waiting for us.
    (instead of:)
  • If the form of the subjunctive II agrees with the past tense of the indicative, we use the paraphrase would.
    He said, "You laugh a lot."
    He said they would laugh a lot.
    (instead of:)


If we use subjunctive II in indirect speech, although subjunctive I would be possible, one could conclude from this that we are doubting the truth of the statement.

Walter says he's sick. (neutral)
Walter says he's sick. (Doubt if it's true)