Indirect Statement

Ignis Umbra

Ignis Aeternus
The indirect statement is often a confusing topic for many new Latin students, and sometimes even for those who have experience with the language. As such, I thought it would be beneficial to explain this concept as thoroughly as possible.

So, what is an indirect statement (oratio obliqua)? Simply put, it is a second-hand telling of a direct statement (oratio recta). In other words, as the name suggests, it is an indirect manner of conveying information. Below are two English examples of this dichotomy:

Direct statement: "The boy is throwing food."

Indirect statement: "He knows that the boy is throwing food."

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Direct statement: "I loved these shoes!"

Indirect statement: "She knew that I loved these shoes!"

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As you can see from the above, the content in the direct statement is still conveyed in the indirect statement, but it is secondary to the main clause.

How do we construct the indirect statement in Latin?

The transformation of a direct statement into an indirect statement can seem quite confusing, but it is actually only a two-part transformation.

In the indirect statement, the...
  • ...subject of the original direct statement becomes accusative.
  • ...verb of the original direct statement is made an infinitive.**
To briefly illustrate this transformation, let's apply it to the two above English sentences, but in Latin.

1) "The boy is throwing food."

The Latin equivalent, as a direct statement, would be the following: Puer cibum iacit.

How would this be transformed into the indirect statement, "He knows that the boy is throwing food"?

From above, two major changes need to be made:
  • The subject of the original direct statement, puer, must become the accusative puerum.
  • The verb of the original direct statement, iacit, must become the present infinitive: iacere.
Note: The direct object in the original direct statement, cibum, remains unchanged, as it is still the direct object of iacere after the transformation.

Given the above, here is how one might implement the sentence puer cibum iacit in an indirect statement:

Ille scit puerum cibum iacere -- He knows the boy to throw food <--> He knows that the boy is throwing food.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

2) "I loved these shoes!"

The Latin equivalent, as a direct statement, is: Ego hos calceos amabam!

Now let's transform this into the indirect statement, "She knew that I loved these shoes!"

Recall the two parts of the transformation:
  • The subject, ego, becomes accusative: me.
  • The verb, amabam, becomes the present infinitive: amare**.
Note: Hos calceos, the direct object, remains unchanged in the indirect statement, because it is still the direct object of amare.

After the individual changes are made, it's time to piece together the indirect statement:

Illa sciebat me hos calceos amare! - She knew me to love these shoes! <--> She knew that I loved these shoes!

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As you can see from the above illustrations, the process of transforming a direct statement into an indirect one is not terribly complex. However, there is one aspect of the alteration that can be tricky to understand at first:

**The tense of the infinitive in the indirect statement is relative to the tense of the main verb. This feature is known as the "sequence of tenses", or consecutio temporum.

What does this mean? It means that, no matter the tense of the introducing verb, if the action of the infinitive is occurring at the same time as that of the introducing verb, you use the present infinitive; if the action of the infinitive occurred before that of the introducing verb, you use the perfect infinitive; and if the action of the infinitive is (or was) to occur after that of the introducing verb, you use the future infinitive.

Examples:

"I knew that she had kissed my brother yesterday!" - Sciebam istam heri fratrem meum basiasse!

Why is the perfect infinitive basiasse used? Since the corresponding English sentence reads "had kissed" (pluperfect), we know that the act of kissing occurred prior to sciebam (imperfect). Thus, basiasse is the correct infinitive to use.

"My father said that he would thrash me!" - Pater meus dixit se flagellaturum esse me!

Why is the future infinitive flagellaturum esse used? The English says "he would thrash me", which implies that the act of thrashing is forthcoming. The tense of dixit is on the opposite end of the spectrum (being in the perfect), so flagellaturum esse is the correct infinitive.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

INDIRECT STATEMENT FAQs

Below are a few commonly asked questions about the transformation of the direct statement to indirect statement.

Q: What if the verb in the original direct statement is passive?

A: If the verb in the direct statement is passive, the infinitive must be passive as well.


Q: What if the subject of the verb in the original direct statement is the same as the subject of the main verb in the indirect statement?

A: Unless the subject is ego, nos, tu, or vos, use the reflexive pronoun, se. Do not use the demonstrative eum/eam/id. It will mean something entirely different (e.g. "He knows that he (himself) will run away" --> Is scit se fugiturum esse).


Q: What if the verb in the original direct statement is future passive?

A: There are two workarounds:
  • Instead of the two transformations, use the construction fore (future infinitive of esse) ut + the original direct statement with the verb in the subjunctive.
  • Instead of the infinitive, use the accusative supine (often the fourth principal part of a verb) + iri.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Finally, to better familiarize yourself with the formation of the indirect statement, try the following exercise. In each of the four sentences below, the indirect statement has been formed incorrectly, making the sentence ungrammatical. Try to correct the formation, using everything you've learned above about the indirect statement:

1) Scio tu me amas!

2) Intellexisti tu hoc agere potueras, nonne?

3) Frater dixit stultus est.

4) Romani creverunt civitas olim obsidebitur.

1) Scio te me amare!

2) Intellexisti te hoc agere potuisse, nonne?

3) Frater dixit se stultum esse.

4) Romani creverunt fore ut civitas olim obsideretur OR Romani creverunt civitatem olim obsessum iri
 

Suzanne Turner

New Member
Thank you so much for taking the time to post this excellent explanation about indirect statements.

We've just been working on this very subject on my Latin course and, I must admit, I've found it quite a struggle. Your explanation is so clear it has really helped. Thanks.
Suzanne
 
Top