How do you construct an Indirect Statement/Speech?

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Prose Composition

For Latin A-level, one of the possible choices for the first half of the prose paper is to translate a passage from English into Latin (and also a few sentences at AS). This may, at first, seem quite daunting since the OCR GCSE exam only requires Latin to English translation. If you do choose this option, then your knowledge of grammar will need to be more secure and detailed than it would necessarily need to be for translation from Latin. Nevertheless, after learning some key constructions and vocabulary which crop up time and time again, the thought of tackling a prose composition will seem by far the best option for getting marks.

Indirect Speech (Oratio Obliqua)

Indirect speech (/statement), sometimes referred to as oratio obliqua, constitutes one construction that is often found both when translating Latin but also when translating into it. At first, it can cause some confusion but with some logical thinking, it is actually quite straight forward. Indeed, it is the way in which English constructs this type of clause which is the confusing, not Latin.

For a direct statement, in English, we would say: ‘The soldier loves the city’. To make this indirect, it would be ‘He/She says that the soldier loves the city’. The tense in the indirect clause is kept the same as the original, direct statement which, in this case, is present.

The same is true of true of Latin, although Latin uses an accusative and infinitive for the indirect clause. This means that the original subject of the direct statement goes into the accusative case, and the verb is changed to an infinitive that matches the tense of the original statement. Therefore, miles urbem amat would become dicit militem urbem amare. So, depending on whether the verb in the direct statement is past (amavit), present (amat) or future (amabit), the tense of the infinitive would be the same when the statement becomes indirect.

This is straightforward enough, but when the introductory verb changes tense in English, the verb in the indirect statement changes tense, too. Consequently, the direct statement ‘The soldier loves the city’ would become ‘He/she said that the soldier loved the city’ if the introductory verb is past. If the original verb was in the past tense (‘The soldier loved the city’), the indirect statement would become ‘He /She said that the soldier had loved the city.’

In Latin, this does not happen; the tense of the infinitive stays the same as the original statement regardless of the tense of the introductory verb. So when the phrase miles urbem amat is made indirect, it will not change: dicit militem urbem amare / dixit militem urbem amare. If the original, direct verb is past - miles urbem amavit - then the perfect tense would always be maintained by the infinitive: dicit militem urbem amavisse / dixit militem urbem amavisse.   

Verbs which Require this Construction

The introductory verbs which mark the start of indirect speech/statement are varied but, by thinking carefully about what the verb implies, it can be worked out fairly easily whether it requires this sort of construction. The following are just a few which do require an indirect statement: arbitror (I think), audio (I hear), constat [inter omnes] (It is common knowledge), credo (I believe), ferunt (Men/People say), memini (I remember), nego (I say . . . not/ I deny), scribo (I write). 

Jack H. A Level English Literature tutor, GCSE English Literature tut...

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