So I recently read about indirect and direct speech. And here is a website with some examples. But Im confused on which form I should use in speech, the top one or the bottom one (See site). Normally I use the bottom one, but now I'm confused on which form is the most common in daily conversations. For example,

  1. Студенты говорят: "Мы хотим стабильности и мира."

Студенты говорят, что они хотят стабильности и мира.

  1. Бабушка сказала: "Я хочу купить игрушку внуку."

Бабушка сказала, что она хочет купить игрушку внуку.

And I'm always tempted to say "что она хотела купить" because that's how we do it in English. But really I'm just super confused on how to tell a story (who said what, etc) Nobody has ever told me I do it wrong, but after reading about indirect speech I'm very confused.


  • that's how we do it in English Do you mean that something like "She said that she wants..." sounds wrong for you?
    – Matt
    May 13, 2016 at 15:55
  • In most cases, yes.
    – VCH250
    May 13, 2016 at 16:21
  • In English indirect speech tenses are adjusted to the "main" part of the sentence, but in Russian they don't. Maybe because in Russian parts of a compound sentence are more independent. Believe, this adjustment done in English is as uncomfortable to us as not adjusting tenses is to you.
    – Alissa
    May 27, 2016 at 14:56
  • @ Alissa actually, it seems unnatural to me sometimes too. For example, "he said he was a human", sentences like this don't make sense to be honest. Is he now, not a human))?
    – VCH250
    May 28, 2016 at 12:58

4 Answers 4


In authentic, real-life daily conversations... neither.

Студенты говорят, они хотят стабильности и мира.

Бабушка сказала, она хочет купить внуку игрушку. (Even more true-to-life would be something like Бабушка сказала, она внуку игрушку хочет купить. And сказала would in all likelihood be pronounced скаала.)

You're unlikely to be taught this, and the forms of reported speech that you listed are the "correct" ones (although, one more thing, when the subject is the same in both clauses, it's usually more idiomatic to drop the pronoun: Студенты говорят, что хотят стабильности и мира. Бабушка сказала, что хочет купить внуку игрушку. With the pronoun in place, one intuitively expects more to follow, most likely a "but".) These are the forms you should probably learn first — just be prepared for a slightly different syntax in "live" everyday Russian, and for not many people being able to concisely answer questions about it.


Well, formally Russian does not use sequence of tenses. Indirect speech just uses the same tense that is used in a direct speech. So,

Бабушка сказала: "Я хочу (present, first person) купить игрушку внуку." =
"Бабушка сказала, что она хочет (present, third person) купить игрушку внуку."

Бабушка сказала: "Я хотела (past, first person) купить игрушку внуку." =
"Бабушка сказала, что она хотела (past, third person) купить игрушку внуку"

But informally, in casual speech, there's no problem if you use a sequence of tenses, most people won't even notice it. (Unless it is really important what time was used in the direct speech, or you're talking with a peculiarly pedantic person).

  • 2
    I disagree with the idea that using "что она хотела" instead of "что она хочет" in that example would be OK, despite some native speakers might say so. This version is potentially misleading: while proper version means the granny wanted to buy something in future, the other version can imply she'd had intention to buy it but changed her mind by the moment of saying that.
    – Alex_ander
    May 16, 2016 at 5:23
  • 1
    @Alex_ander, more correct, probably, is not that she changed her mind, but rather it is unclear whether she still wants to for we don't have any up-to-date evidence and the information previously obtained could decay.
    – bipll
    May 23, 2016 at 19:00
  • That's right, I only gave an example using expression with 'can'. She could have lost the possibility of buying it by that time as well - that remains unknown. But most likely (= if properly used) сказала, что она хотела would not be about her intention for future (=she said she had wanted).
    – Alex_ander
    May 24, 2016 at 10:16

Instead of tense harmony, Old and Middle Russian had an evidential particle де which was grammatically required to mark reported speech, both direct and indirect:

А сказал, дана, де, им в монастырь наша жаловальная грамота, а велено им по той нашей жаловальной грамоте ходити на Низ рекою Волгою судном до Казани и за Казань рыбы купите на монастырьской обиход по четыре тысечи рыб на год безпошлинно.

И в розпросе, государь, скозала та девка: «Родам де есми, государь, руска, а имя де мне Аринка, а отца де у меня звали Иванам, крестьянин, и отца де, государь, у меня и матери не стала, а была де есми, государь, в Кашинском уезде в селе в Ыванковском у попа, Богданам завут, за дитяти места; и тот де, государь, миня поп Богдан отдал в Кашинском же уезде в Славки тотарину, Тушаем зовут, и тот де, государь, тотарин Тушай меня продал тому Енговату Бехкулакову»

Modern Russian does not require it grammatically (though you can still use it or another particle, мол, to mark reported speech), but it did not acquire any other grammatical means to mark reported speech either.


I believe that using reported speech in Russian is much easier than in English because there's no sequence of tenses.The tense of the reported verb doesn't depend on the tense in the main clause. So just imagine what you would say if there's no "бабушка говорит" or "бабушка сказала" and use the same tense as in direct speech but don't forget to change pronouns and make the verb agreement respectively:

я хочу купить–что она хочет купить, я хотела купить – что она хотела купить.

It can't be easier.

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