Hans: Ich bin 30 Jahre alt (direct speech)
Hans sagte, er sei 30 Jahre alt (indirect speech)

In above indirect speech or conjunctive 1 sentence, the pronoun "ich" changed into "er", which I understand but what if the pronouns "ich" or "du" come in indirect speech form like given below sentences, then what would be their direct speech form?

Er sagte, ich sei Polizist.
Er sagte, du seist Polizist.

from a comment: I want the direct speech form of the last two sentences "Er sagte, ich sei Polizist. and Er sagte, du seist Polizist."

I tried but I'm not sure about these forms:

  • Hans: Du bist 30 Jahre alt. Hans sagte, ich sei 30 Jahre alt
  • Hans: Er ist 30 Jahre alt. Hans sagte: Du seist 30 Jahre alt
  • 1
    What would you consider the direct speech form of "he said I'm a policeman" or "he said you're a policeman" in English?
    – DonHolgo
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 12:01
  • @DonHolgo I think the both sentence's direct speeches form are in the same present tense.
    – Tgth
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 12:10
  • Yes, but what exactly did he say? (And to whom?)
    – DonHolgo
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 16:34

2 Answers 2


First and second person pronouns are called deictic pronouns: They point (refer) to the person speaking or hearing an utterance. Their meaning changes depending on who speaks or hears, i.e. depending on the context of the utterance.

Let's look at some examples.

Maria1 zu Josef2: "Ich1 bin dumm. Du2 bist klug."
Josef2 zu Maria1: "Du1 hast recht, ich2 bin klug."

The indices indicate coreference. In the first situation, Maria is the speaker and therefore, ich refers to Maria; in the second situation, Josef is the speaker and ich refers to him. (The situation or context of the utterance is to the left of the colon, the utterance itself is to the right of the colon.)

Now let's look at examples involving indirect speech.

(A) Maria1 zu Josef2: "Hans3 sagte, ich1 sei Polizist."
(B) Maria1 zu Josef2: "Hans3 sagte, du2 seist Polizist."
(C) Maria1 zu Josef2: "Hans3 sagte, er3 sei Polizist." [*]

When looking for direct speech equivalents, we have to change the context of the utterance, because it is Hans who is speaking.

(A') Hans3 zu Maria1: "Du1 bist Polizist."
(B') Hans3 zu Maria1: "Josef2 ist Polizist."
(C') Hans3 zu Maria1: "Ich3 bin Polizist."

I think what caused you problems (and what also might make your question sort of hard to understand) is that usually, when talking about grammar, it is sufficient to give an utterance, but here you need to give an utterance (what is said) and a context (who says it to whom).

* A remark about (C). Third person pronouns are called anaphoric. They are independent of the context of the utterance: er refers to Hans, which is part of the utterance.

  • Deixis appears to be a general linguistic concept not restricted to German. Are there any languages that do not make use of this?
    – Takkat
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 13:00
  • I find it hard to imagine a language lacking a way to refer to the speaker or hearer.
    – David Vogt
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 13:11
  • 1
    A complication: The formal you pronoun Sie follows the grammar rules of third person plural but the semantic rules of second person. Hans: Sie sind Polizist. – Hans sagte, ich sei Polizist.
    – Janka
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 18:56

Actually, it is:

Hans sagte: "Ich bin 30 Jahre alt". (direct speech)
Hans sagte, er sei 30 Jahre alt. (indirect speech form)

Now the reverse applies if you want to go the other way around:

Er sagte, er sei Polizist
Er sagte: "ich bin Polizist."

Er sagte, du seist Polizistin.
Er sagte: "Du bist Polizistin".
Er sagte: "Sie ist Polizistin".
That depends on who is talking to whom exactly.

The last sentence in the update is wrong. Correct is:

Hans: "Er ist 30 Jahre alt".
Hans sagte, er sei 30 Jahre alt.

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