Indirect speech

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The indirect speech is a means of distancing, reporting playback of utterances. The reproduction of the statement can be verbatim or abbreviated or individual parts can be reproduced in a different order than in the original. The indirect speech is not like the direct speech in quotation marks , but in a subordinate clause with the introductory subjunct “that” or in a main clause in the subjunctive I or II.

In addition to indirect speech, there is direct speech and experienced speech .

In German

Compare direct and indirect speech

In German, direct and indirect speech differ in seven points as follows:

direct speech example indirect speech example
quotation marks He said, "She has no money." no quotes He said she had no money.
no conjunction He said, "She has no money." also no conjunction or conjunction that He said she had no money.
He said that she has no money.
Speaking pause (oral language) He said: (short pause) "She has no money." no pause in speaking He said that she has no money.
Indicative or mode of the original utterance He said, "She has no money." Subjunctive (see also below: Modes) He said that they have no money have .
He said, "I can't lend you any more money." Conversion of all pronouns to the 3rd person or conversion to the origo of the narrator He said he could no longer lend me / you / him / her (depending on your perspective) any more money.
Matrix sentence necessary for quotation (with quotation verb like say, mean, answer, etc.) He said , "I can't lend you any more money." Matrix sentence can be omitted if the speaker is known He couldn't lend me any more money.
Question mark or exclamation mark He asked, "Can you lend me money?" no question marks or exclamation marks He asked if I could lend him money (here: indirect question ).


Indirect speech can be expressed in indicative or subjunctive. An indicative subordinate clause with the subjunct “that” is used if the binding claim of the original utterance is accepted. If the speaker wishes to leave open how binding the statement is, the subjunctive I is chosen. Often the subjunctive I is identical to the indicative form, which means that this relativization would not be recognizable. In these cases, the subjunctive II is used as a substitute.

The second subjunctive can also be used if the speaker has doubts about the statement given or considers it to be incorrect. However, this rule is controversial. Studies show that at least nowadays it is not used in the language of newspapers and that readers also do not perceive a distancing difference between subjunctive I and II in indirect speech. A distancing from the content is only clear in practice through the context.

If the reproduction of the utterance of a third person is accompanied by the preposition or postposition according to or according to or introduced aloud by the preposition , then the verb is an indirect speech - according to the Duden editorial team - in the indicative.

If a sentence introduces a passage with indirect speech reproduction made up of several sentences separated (by dots), this speech reproduction is consistently subjunctive. A special feature of the German subjunctive is that it can appear in formally independent sentences.


The tense in indirect speech refers to the moment of the statement. So it is in the present tense , even if the situation was in the past:

  • The last time I saw her she told me she was pregnant, and she was actually pregnant. Now she is the proud mother of a daughter.
  • He told me that he had lost all his money and therefore couldn't give me anything.
  • He told me he was going to emigrate to America, but now he's back in Europe.

Further examples of the mode use in indirect speech in German

  • “I came from Berlin.” → He said he came from Berlin. (He was already there at the time of the original speech.)
  • “I will come from Berlin.” → He said he would come from Berlin. Colloquially: He said he was from Berlin. (At the time of the original speech, the arrival was in the future.)
  • “I'll come with you.” → You said you would come with me. or: You said you would come along. (Instead of the future tense) Colloquially: You said you would come with me.
  • “I was taken.” → You said you were taken. (Passive)

In direct speech, however, the statement is reproduced without changing the mode.

  • She says: "I'm coming from Berlin tomorrow."

A mode change in a "that" sentence is not mandatory.

  • "The Wimbledon finalist claimed: The chair referee cheated on me". → "The Wimbledon finalist claimed that the chair referee cheated on him."

Often the indicative is used instead of the subjunctive in colloquial speech in indirect speech , e.g. B.

  • He said he was from Berlin. (with subjunctive)
  • He said he comes from Berlin. (with indicative; colloquial)

Indirect speech in other languages

Since German mainly uses the subjunctive to mark indirect speech, many German speakers are subject to the fallacy that this mode also has the same function in other languages. But that's not the case. In other European languages ​​such as English , Spanish , French or Danish , it is not the mode but the tense of the quotation that is changed. On the other hand, the rule of adapting the pronouns also applies here.

  • He told me that he had lost all his money and couldn't give me anything.

In Lithuanian , indirect speech is expressed using infinite verb forms (e.g. participles) (see modus relativus ).

In Latin , indirect speech is expressed by the accusativus cum infinitivo (AcI). All questions, imperatives and subordinate clauses are placed in the subjunctive.

In many other languages, the difference between direct and indirect speech is almost impossible to grasp stylistically and is less strict. In Japanese , for example, the speaker is free to change pronouns or modes.

Literature example

The dialogues in the novel Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann are continuously written in indirect speech.


  • Cathrine Fabricius-Hansen : The functional area indirect speech reproduction (iw S.): Subjunctive I and II. In: Duden. The grammar. Edited by Angelika Wöllstein and the Duden editorial team. 9th edition. Bibliographisches Institut, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-411-04049-0 , pp. 534-548, marginal no. 762-778 ( , incomplete).
  • Mathilde Hennig (Ed.): Duden. The dictionary of linguistic cases of doubt. Correct and good German. 8th edition. Bibliographisches Institut, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-411-04098-8 , pp. 479-483 (keyword “indirect speech”; online ).

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Gerhard Schoebe: compact Schoebe grammar. Oldenbourg, Munich 1997, p. 142; Elke Hentschel and Harald Weydt (eds.): Handbook of German grammar. 4th edition, Berlin / New York 2013, p. 106 (accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  2. Anja Wilke: Speech reproduction in early modern witch trial files: A contribution to the history of the use of modes in German. De Gruyter, Berlin 2006, ISBN 978-3-11-019097-7 , pp. 57-66 .
  3. Duden Newsletter of October 29, 2010 , accessed on January 28, 2018.
  4. Klaus Mackowiak: The 101 most common mistakes in German and how to avoid them. CH Beck, Munich 2009, p. 98.