Unit 76 Reporting: `that’-clauses

Main points

* You usually use your own words to report what someone said, rather than repeating their exact words.

* Report structures contain a reporting clause first, then a reported clause.

* When you are reporting a statement, the reported clause is a `that’-clause.

* You must mention the hearer with `tell’. You need not mention the hearer with `say’.

1 When you are reporting what someone said, you do not usually repeat their exact words, you use your own words in a report structure.
Jim said he wanted to go home.

Jim’s actual words might have been `It’s time I went’ or `I must go’.

Report structures contain two clauses. The first clause is the reporting clause, which contains a reporting verb such as `say’, `tell’, or `ask’.
She said that she’d been to Belgium.
The man in the shop told me how much it would cost.
You often use verbs that refer to people’s thoughts and feelings to report what people say. If someone says `I am wrong’, you might report this as `He felt that he was wrong’. See Unit 77 for more information.

2 The second clause in a report structure is the reported clause, which contains the information that you are reporting. The reported clause can be a `that’-clause, a `to’-infinitive clause, an `if’-clause, or a `wh’-word clause.
She said that she didn’t know.
He told me to do it.
Mary asked if she could stay with us.
She asked where he’d gone.

3 If you want to report a statement, you use a `that’-clause after a verb such as `say’.

admit, agree, answer, argue, claim, complain, decide, deny, explain, insist, mention, promise, reply, say, warn

He said that he would go.
I replied that I had not read it yet.

You often omit `that’ from the `that’-clause, but not after `answer’, `argue’, `explain’, or `reply’.
They said I had to see a doctor first.
He answered that the price would be three pounds.

You often mention the hearer after the preposition `to’ with the following verbs.


He complained to me that you were rude.

4 `Tell’ and some other reporting verbs are also used with a `that’-clause, but with these verbs you have to mention the hearer as the object of the verb.


He told me that he was a farmer.
I informed her that I could not come.

The word `that’ is often omitted after `tell’.
I told them you were at the dentist.

You can also mention the hearer as the object of the verb with `promise’ and `warn’.
I promised her that I wouldn’t be late.

5 Note the differences between `say’ and `tell’. You cannot use `say’ with the hearer as the object of the verb. You cannot say `I said them you had gone’. You cannot use `tell’ without the hearer as the object of the verb. You cannot say `I told that you had gone’. You cannot use `tell’ with `to’ and the hearer. You cannot say `I told to them you had gone’.

6 The reporting verbs that have the hearer as object, such as `tell’, can be used in the passive.
She was told that there were no tickets left.

Most reporting verbs that do not need the hearer as object, such as `say’, can be used in the passive with impersonal `it’ as subject, but not `answer’, `complain’, `insist’, `promise’, `reply’, or `warn’.
It was said that the money had been stolen.
See also Units 74 and 77.