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Grammar: Indirect Statement

Indirect statement is reported speech; what someone has said is reported, but that person's exact words are not quoted directly.

Tom is talking. "I have a small white car."

Direct speech. Tom says, "I wrecked my car."

Indirect statement. Tom says that he wrecked his car.

In English, the word "that" is used to introduce the indirect statement, and various changes may also need to be made if the original statement includes pronominal forms.

In medieval Latin, the situation is basically like what we do in English. The Latin word quod ("that") is used to introduce the indirect statement. Easy!

In classical Latin, the situation is much more complicated. Latin uses a construction called "accusative plus infinitive" to report indirect statement.

Accusative plus infinitive. Although the idea of putting the subject of any verb into the accusative case may seem kind of strange, we sometimes do the same thing in English. Think about a sentence like "I want him to sing." The main verb is "want." But "him" is not exactly the object of the verb: I don't want him. I want him to sing. The phrase "him to sing" is very similar to the way that the infinitive construction works in Latin, with the subject of the infinitive (he) in the accusative case (him). And just like in Latin, the English infinitive can sometimes have a subject in the accusative and an object in the accusative: I want them to like us. In this sentence, they (them) is the subject of the infinitive, and us is the object.

In English, we used to use the infinitive in some kinds of indirect statement. For example: "I know her to be a brave woman." This sounds kind of archaic in English, and in modern speech we simply use "that" to introduce the indirect statement. For example: "I know that she is a brave woman." In classical Latin, the usual form of indirect statement was the accusative + infinitive construction. But you will see that in medieval Latin, it is very common to find a construction that is very similar to English, using the word quod. In fact, we already saw that in Jerome's "vulgar" Latin last week, when Delilah said to Samson: quomodo dicis quod ames me, how can you say that you love me? And Samson nescit quod Dominus recessisset, did not know that the Lord had departed from him.

Latin examples.

  • dicit. he said that he pursued the soldier. dicit se militem persecutum esse.
  • sperat. she trusts that you have a lot of money. sperat te multam pecuniam habere.
  • minatur. he is threatening to go away. minatur se abire.
  • arbitratur. she thinks that you are sleeping. arbitratur te dormire.
  • commemorat. he mentions that the soldier died. commemorat militem mortuum esse.
  • perhibet. she asserts that the boys were captured. perhibet pueros captos esse.
  • credit. she believes that Marcus was born in Asia. credit Marcum natum esse in Asia.
  • fert. he says that Marcus is stupid. fert Marcum stultum esse.
  • fabulatur. she says that the young man is strong. fabulatur iuvenem fortem esse.
  • dubitat. he does not doubt that Priscilla is beautiful. non dubitat Priscillam pulchram esse.

It sometimes helps to break the sentence up into its two original parts, one time with direct quotation (he say, "it's hot out!"), and the other time with indirect quotation (he says that it is hot out).

Scio: Vulpis fraudulenta est.
... Scio vulpem fraudulentam esse.

Vulpis dicit: "Perdix dormiebat."
... Vulpis dicit perdicem dormivisse.

Vulpis clamavit: "Perdix mea est!"
... Vulpis clamavit perdicem suam esse. [note use of suam]

Imperator dixit: "Habeo multam pecuniam!"
... Imperator dixit se habere multam pecuniam. [note use of se]

Pastor dixit: "Lupus oves meos interfecit."
... Pastor dixit lupum oves suos interfecisse. [note use of suos]

Pastor dixit: "Oves meos interfecti sunt."
... Pastor dixit oves suos interfectos esse. [note use of suos]

The tense of the infinitive depends on the tense of the original verb: a present tense verb is transformed into a present infinitive; a perfect, imperfect or plurperfect verb is transformed into a perfect infinitive.

Modern Languages 4970 / MRS 4903: Medieval Latin. Spring 2003 Online Course at the University of Oklahoma. Visit for more info.
Laura Gibbs, University of Oklahoma - Information Technology © 2003. Last updated: December 29, 2002 7:12 PM