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Reported Speech

You may have occasionally seen sentences like the following: Sie sagte, er spreche sehr gut Deutsch. 


You may think, er spreche? What is going on here?


This structure is an example of what is known as the indirekte Rede (in English "reported speech"), which is used more often but not exclusively in written German and formal reporting or storytelling. Sentences like this will involve the verb sagen or other verbs used to talk about what people think and say, such as antworten, äußern, behaupten, berichten, denken, erklären, fragen, glauben, or meinen.


In instances where someone's speech or thoughts are reported, you may see the subjunctive (Konjunktiv I) employed, like in the sentence above. For regular verbs, some of the endings are indistinguishable from other tenses, but some are very different. Here is the complete Konjunktiv I conjugation of the verb sprechen, and here are examples of how it would be used with reported speech:


Er sagte, ich spreche sehr gut Deutsch. ("He said I speak very good German.")
Er sagte, du sprechest sehr gut Deutsch. ("He said you speak very good German.")
Er sagte, er/sie spreche sehr gut Deutsch. ("He said she/he speaks very good German.")
Er sagte, wir sprechen sehr gut Deutsch. ("He said we speak very good German.")
Er sagte, ihr sprechet sehr gut Deutsch. ("He said you speak very good German.")
Er sagte, Sie/sie sprechen sehr gut Deutsch. ("He said they speak very good German.")


In the following examples, you can see the same conjugation pattern with a few other verbs: 


Der König hatte sie nicht eingeladen,

The King hadn't invited her,

weil es hieß, sie habe ein böses Herz.

because it was said she had an evil heart.

Caption 19, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Dornröschen

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Er verband ihm das Bein,

He bandaged his leg,

fragte ihn nicht, wohin er wolle, woher er käme.

did not ask him where he was going, where he had come from.

Captions 7-8, Janoschs Traumstunde - Der Wettlauf zwischen Hase und Igel

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Der hat mir erzählt, er sei echt nur...

he told me that he really just is...

Er fahre eigentlich Mercedes

He actually drives a Mercedes

und kleide sich deshalb so schräg ...

and the reason he dresses so weirdly...

Captions 30-31, Yello-Biographie - Ein Leben für die Avantgarde

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You may have noticed that kommen is irregular. One other irregular verb that you have likely seen conjugated like this is sein:


Von daher werde ich nicht tanzen,

Therefore I won't be dancing,

so dass ich behaupten kann, ich sei ein brillianter Tänzer,

so I can claim that I'm a brilliant dancer

und niemand kann es konterkarieren.

and nobody can disprove it.

Captions 25-26, Deutsche Sporthilfe - Ball des Sports

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Hans erklärte, er sei nicht verzaubert,

Hans explained that he was not bewitched,

sondern wirklich ein Igeljunge.

but really a hedgehog boy.

Caption 71, Märchen - Sagenhaft - Hans mein Igel

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Sie behaupteten, sie seien Weber eines seltenen,

They claimed that they were weavers of a rare,

besonders schönen Stoffes.

especially beautiful cloth.

Caption 25, Märchen - Sagenhaft Des Kaisers neue Kleider

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Further Learning
You will likely come across examples of reported speech on Yabla German from time to time, but structures like Sie sagt, dass er Italienisch spricht are simply more common in spoken German. When you do see an example that uses Konjunktiv I, check to see if it's a regular or irregular verb in terms of its conjugation. 

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