Today I will talk about a common grammatical mistake that native English speakers make in BOTH English and Spanish. This mistake involves what’s known in terms of grammar as the Direct Style vs. the Indirect Style. Oddly, you will NOT find that Spanish speakers make this grammatical mistake as often in the Spanish language.
I decided to write this blog post after a customer sent me an email that said:
“Patrick in one of your emails you wrote ‘Le pregunté cuanto costaba el pescado.’ Why are you using the price in the past tense? Did it change?”
Well, the price did not change. The phrase that I used just happens to be the correct verb usage in both Spanish grammar AND English grammar. It was NOT an error.
Look at my phrase again.
Le pregunté cuánto costaba el pescado.
I asked him how much did the fish cost.
The above is an example of what is known in English as “indirect speech” (also known as “reported speech”). The grammatical term for this in the Spanish language is known as “estilo indirecto.”
There are 3 rules that I think are important to mention about “estilo indirecto” or indirect speech/reported speech. And these rules apply to both English and Spanish.
1. You do not use quotation marks to indicate what a person said.
2. When “reporting” what a person said “it doesn’t have to be word for word.”
3. When reporting what a person said the tense usually changes.
The reason why the tense changes is because when you are reporting indirect speech you are normally describing a time in the past. This should be obvious because the speaker actually spoke in the past. For this reason, the verbs should also be in the past.
On the other hand, with “estilo directo” or “direct speech/quoted speech” you must say precisely what someone said. And you should also use quotation marks to enclose what someone has said.
Le pregunté, “¿Cuánto cuesta el pescado?”
I asked him, “How much does the fish cost?”
I think much of this confusion is caused by the fact that in conversational English we often ignore the grammatical rules of “estilo indirecto” or indirect speech/reported speech and make grammatically incorrect statements such as “She asked him how much does the dress cost.”
As I have said, in previous emails, the Spanish language is less forgiving. It is not acceptable in the Spanish language to not strictly adhere to the rules of Spanish grammar. It is not as common that you will hear native Spanish speakers making the same grammatical errors with their language that we make with the English language.
In my next blog post, I will give you plenty of examples of the “estilo directo” vs. “estilo indirecto” or direct speech/quoted speech vs. indirect speech/reported speech in various verb tenses. That way you will have a good understanding of how this grammatical rule works in both languages.