Reporting verbs with 'that', 'wh-' and 'if' clauses

Level: intermediate

Reporting verbs with that clauses

When we want to report what people say or think, we can use a reporting verb and a clause with that:

He said that I had to see a doctor.
I thought that he was being silly
.

We can leave out the word that:

He said I had to see a doctor.
I thought he was being silly.

These verbs have the pattern:

Noun + Verb + (that) + Clause

With some verbs, we can mention the hearer as the object of the verb:

She reminded him that it was time to go.
He told me he was a friend of yours.

These verbs have the pattern:

Noun + Verb + Noun + (that) + Clause

Reporting verbs with wh- and if clauses

Some reporting verbs introduce a wh- clause or an if clause:

She explained what we had to do.
I didn't know where to go.

He asked if I was ready.
I wonder if they're at home.

These verbs have the pattern:

Noun + Verb + wh- word + Clause

or

Noun + Verb + if + Clause

With some verbs, we can mention the hearer as the object of the verb:

He told me what I had to do.
He asked them if they were ready.

These verbs have the pattern:

Noun + Verb + Noun + wh- word + Clause

or

Noun + Verb + Noun + if + Clause

Reporting verbs 1

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Reporting verbs 2

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Submitted by mariaidabertocchi on Sat, 29/04/2017 - 17:37

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Yes, you are right: I realised I didn't put an "s" as soon as I sent the message... Sorry! Thank u very much Peter. Yr explanation has been most useful! Mariaida

Submitted by mariaidabertocchi on Thu, 27/04/2017 - 13:35

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Hi there, I've found the following sentence in a book I'm reading: She had suggested that we leave the train--- is it correct? Wouldn't be better "She had suggested that we left the train--- ? In an English grammar book I see that the sentence "The minister proposed regular meeting for the committee" can be changed in "The minister proposed that the committee should meet regularly", using the word "meet'. Would it also be right if I used "meet" as it follows: "The minister proposed the committee to meet regularly"? Thank you very much for yr help. Maria

Hello mariaidabertocchi,

After 'suggest' we generally use the subjunctive form, which is the base form of the verb (without -ed, without the third-person 's' etc.). For example:

I suggested that he leave.

I'll suggest that we go there next week.

There are other verbs which work in the same way, such as 'insist' and 'request'.

The subjunctive is a lot less common than it was in the past in English and is slowly disappearing, so you can now find examples of the present simple or past simple replacing it. It would not be wrong to use 'left' in your example for this reason. It is an example of the language changing.

I think you may have made a mistake in copying the sentence from your grammar book, as an article or a plural form is necessary:

 

The minister proposed a regular meeting for the committee.

or

The minister proposed regular meetings for the committee.

 

The minister proposed that the committee should meet regularly.

is fine as an alternative. However, your version is not correct. You could say:

The minister proposed that the committee meet regularly.

which uses a subjunctive form.

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ricardo A on Thu, 06/04/2017 - 12:18

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Hi. Can I put the word "that" in this sentence below? He told me "THAT" he was a friend of yours. Thanks in advance.

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 06/04/2017 - 13:24

In reply to by Ricardo A

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Hello Ricardo,

Yes, you can use the word 'that' here or you can omit it -- both are correct. People tend to leave it out when speaking, and often in writing as well, but there is nothing wrong with using it.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by JamlMakav on Wed, 18/01/2017 - 16:35

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Hello, ''I thought John would go to Paris.'' If it is still true that John is going to Paris, should I change would to will or present continuous? Does changing aspects in all of that clauses work in the same way(present to past, past to past perfect ...)? For example, if I say ''She said John needed something.'' I don't know whether it refers to past or present because we change aspect from present to past simple. ''She'' reports John's words(I need something) and refers to time of John's speaking. ''I knew I needed something.'' Here we could say ''I'' reports I's thoughts(I need something) to himself and I don't know either if needing refers to past or present. ''I knew I had needed something.'' ''I'' reports(I needed something) and refers to the past of the past. Correct me please if I am wrong. Thank you.

Submitted by Kirk on Thu, 19/01/2017 - 07:26

In reply to by JamlMakav

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Hello JamlMakav,

It's great that you've noticed that the time referred to in the subordinate clauses of sentences with reported indirect speech is ambiguous. As you say, in a sentence like 'She said John needed something', it's not clear whether John's need was only in the past or was in the past and present, or is only in the present. There is no way to know from the sentence itself. Sometimes the context (i.e. sentences before) will make it clear, but sometimes you have to guess or ask the person a question to find out.

This is especially true of stative verbs like 'need', 'know', 'want', etc., as they are used less often in some verb tenses (e.g. the past continuous) since they often describe actions that last for some time. 'I knew I had needed' is correct, though 'I knew I needed' is probably more common, unless the need was really in a past time and no longer relevant at the time of knowing.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by taj25 on Sun, 01/01/2017 - 10:59

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(He told me he was a friend of yours.) this is the original sentence from this lesson. my question is can i use "that" with clause here. "he told me that he was a friend of yours." are the sentence grammatically correct

Submitted by taj25 on Wed, 30/11/2016 - 13:22

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"He said that I had to see a doctor." I HAVE QUESTIONED ABOUT THAT SENTENCE. IF YOU WERE USED "HAD"(PAST TENSE) WHY DID NOT USE "SAW" INSTEAD OF "SEE". I DON'T KNOW. PLS CLARIFY THE QUESTION.

Hello taj25,

The 'had' here is the past form of 'have to', which shows obligation in a similar way to 'must'. It is followed by an infinitive form which does not change. Thus we say:

I had to see a doctor (past time)

I have to see a doctor (present time)

I will have to see a doctor (future time)

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by khitnay on Sat, 21/05/2016 - 02:02

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Can i use wh -clause after preposition. ? E.g Tell me about where you live . It depens on how much there traffic is.

Hello khitnay,

Yes, it is possible for a wh-clause to be the object of a preposition. There's an example in milad999's comment on our wh-clauses page, plus an explanation of it in Peter's answer just below.

Both of your example sentences are also good examples (and are correct).

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Syam Kumar on Mon, 22/06/2015 - 21:42

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Hello, Thank You Mr.Kirk for clarifying the points I raised in this forum.Actually these doubts were lingering in my mind for so long without getting a clear and precise answer. In my opinion (as a foreign learner of English language) prepositions and verbs used transitively and intransitively are the most difficult to master. I follow three Advanced learner's dictionaries ,Oxford,Longman and Collins Cobuild. Among the three dictionaries I have mentioned Oxford Advanced Learners dictionary gives grammatical patterns such as "somebody something" for example - give somebody something or "something to somebody" for example - give something to somebody. In such verbs if "somebody something" pattern is not given is it possible make meaningful sentences by using those verbs succeeded by the preposition 'to' when the object of the verb is a person. For example finally I revealed to her the truth.Almost similar issue was answered in one of my earlier postings, however I have been persisting with it just to reinforce my understanding. With regards Syam kumar

Submitted by Syam Kumar on Sun, 21/06/2015 - 09:13

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Hello language experts Is it correct to surmise that transitive verbs take a direct object,without preceded by a preposition,for example I enjoyed the dinner or I advised him to be punctual and intransitive verbs take an object preceded by a preposition,for example he consented to our proposal, I opted for a short break or she stared at me. Secondly is it possible to use a transitive verb without an object/noun to form a meaningful sentence and is it possible to use a intransitive without an object preceded by a preposition to form a meaningful sentence ,for example- finally he relented or water receded or she smiled. Is my comprehension about transitive verbs and intransitive verbs correct?

Hello Syam,

That's an interesting idea, but I'm afraid that the presence of absence of a preposition or other particle after a verb is not a reliable indication of whether it is transitive or intransitive. If you look at a dictionary of phrasal verbs, all of which are a verb + some kind of particle, you'll see they are both transitive and intransitive. A verb or phrasal verb is transitive or intransitive depending on how it is used, which is simply a convention. This means that there is no way to tell which kind of verb it is simply by examining its form.

As for your second question, normally transitive verbs must always have an object. There are probably some exceptions to this, but in general they always need an object. Intransitive verbs don't take an object, so it's of course normal to use them without one, as in the examples you wrote.

I hope this helps clarify things a bit for you.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Syam Kumar on Wed, 17/06/2015 - 20:20

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Is it grammatically correct say - I disclose to her the secret and I divulge to him the news.

Hello Syam,

Yes, that is grammatically correct, though it sounds a bit unnatural due to the word order. More often it would be 'I disclosed the secret to her and divulged the news to him' or in a neutral or informal situation simply 'I told her the secret and told him the news'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by rosario70 on Sun, 22/02/2015 - 13:33

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hi guiys, i'm driving mad whit subjunctive. i've a couple o f questions, i hope you can help me. i noticed these sentence recently:1)she proposed that the board of directors replace the CFO, 2) i suggested we move quickly, but i would have say : she proposed that the board of directors replaced the CFO , i suggested we moved quickly; what's the difference? replace and move are base form without to? aren't they? as well i perform this one;) have you ever thought you have changed job?.is ti right?

Hello rosario70,

replace and move are the correct forms for those two sentences because subjunctive forms in English are equivalent to the base form, and, as you noticed, do not change for time, i.e. -ed is not added to the end. The BBC has an old page that discusses the subjunctive that you might find useful.

I'm afraid I'm not sure what you mean in your last sentence. Perhaps 'Have you every thought about changing jobs?'?

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by arkadsq on Tue, 20/01/2015 - 19:44

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"I promised Carole that I would help paint her living room." is bad or it's acceptable but your exercise can emphasize only one good answer, and in this case it's "I promised that I would help Carole paint her living room."?

Hello arkadsq,

That sentence is fine and has a very similar meaning. The difference is that the first sentence makes it clear that the promise was to Carole; the second sentence does not tell us to whom the promise was made, so we could, for example, have promised Carole's father that we would help her.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Livon4090 on Tue, 24/12/2013 - 16:40

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Dear Teachers,

Could you please clear my doubts on mixed conditionals and subjunctive mood.Here are the following examples:

Mixed conditions :

  1. If I had passed the medical exam,I would be a doctor today.
  2. If you passed the medical exam,you would have attained a physician's position.

Could you please clarify what we are trying to express by using mixed conditionals.

Subjunctive mood

  1. Had I known about the construction work on the road, I would have opted an alternative route.
  2. Were I a millionaire,I would set up a small business.

Are these correct subjunctive mood examples?

Would you tell me what we are trying to express by using this subjunctive mood.

Best wishes,

Livon

 

Dear Teachers,

Please reply my queries as these are quite important to me .

I would be very thankful to you.

Best wishes,

Livon

 

Hello Livon,

I'm sure your queries are important to you; however, I'm equally sure that the queries of all our other users are no less important to them.  We reply to queries are quickly as we can, even in holiday periods (as you can see, as I have replied to several of your questions this morning), but some questions take much longer to reply to than others.  If a question is effectively asking for an online grammar lesson, as many of yours are, then it will be answered when time allows, whereas a briefer, more to the point question will be answered much more promptly.  Simply put, if I or my colleagues have an hour to deal with questions and we have the choice of answering one or two long and complex questions or answering fifteen brief and direct questions then we will choose the latter because I would rather one user waited a little longer rather than fifteen users.  

Our primary role in answering questions is to help users to understand the material on the site and direct them to materials which will be of most use to them, not to be online teachers.  We do not mind these kinds of questions, but they have a high time cost for us and we cannot allow a backlog of other questions from other users to build up, which is why, generally speaking, the longer, most general or the more involved the question is, the longer it will take to get a reply and the more patient you will need to be.

I hope that is clear for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Pete,

 I appreciate your response. Please keep up the good work.

Best wishes,

Livon

Submitted by Livon4090 on Wed, 01/01/2014 - 07:23

In reply to by Livon4090

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Dear Pete, 

Could you answer the second part of my query.

why do we use inverse mood in conditionals?

Best wishes,

Livon

Hi Livon,

The subjunctive mood is used to talk about unreal situations, which is exactly what is expressed in many (though not all) conditional sentences. In the sentences you gave, an unreal situation is indeed talked about, and therefore the subjunctive is used.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Livon,

Mixed conditions are conditional sentences in which there is a different time reference in each clause (past and present, for example); however, both clauses must agree in terms of being about real or hypothetical situations.  When we apply this to your examples we can see that one sentence is fine, but the other is incorrect.

If I had passed the medical exam [unreal, past time], I would be a doctor today [unreal, present time]. - this sentence is fine


There is a problem with the second sentence.  The second part ('you would have attained') refers to unreal past time: something that did not happen in the past.  However the first part ('If you passed') can have two meanings in conditional sentences: unreal future time (as in a second conditional) or real past time.  Neither of these can be used with the second part as there must be agreement (both real or both unreal) and there must be a logical chronological sequence (the condition must precede the result).  For the sentence to work we need to change one of the verb forms:

If you had passed the medical exam (unreal past time), you would have attained a physician's position (unreal past time).

If you passed the medical exam (unreal future time), you would attain a physician's position (unreal future time).

If you had passed the medical exam (unreal past time), you would attain a physician's position (unreal present/future time).

If you passed the medical exam (real past time), you attained a physician's position (real past time).

Your second pair of sentences are both correct, though 'opt' should be followed by 'for'.  They are both alternatives to conditional forms with 'if': 'If I had known...' and 'If I were...' respectively.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Trinitysesto (not verified) on Wed, 27/11/2013 - 19:19

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Dear sir,

I've been looking for the rule without finding it. I know there is no change in reported statements when the reporting verbs are in the present, but what happens with reported questions?

I'm concerned with reporting verbs + if clauses referring to the future.

Is it correct to use 'will'? Ex. She's asking if he'll come to the party

Is there a difference between that use and 'wonder if + will'?

Ex. I wonder if I'll ever see you again (Lenny Kraviz)

I'd really appreciate that!

Submitted by Peter M. on Thu, 28/11/2013 - 22:18

In reply to by Trinitysesto (not verified)

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Hello Trinitysesto,

'She's asking if he will come to the party' is correct; 'will' is perfectly acceptable here to describe an event which has not yet taken place, and it would also be acceptable to use 'will' with a past tense reporting verb, provided the even which it describes has not yet taken place (e.g. 'She asked if he'll come to the party' if fine, as is 'She asked if he'd come to the party').

Obviously 'wonder' has a particular meaning (speculate to yourself).  Here, 'wonder + will' is fine, as is 'wondered + would'.  The combination 'wondered + will' is very unlikely as the past form of 'wonder' suggests that the person is no longer wondering - that the second part has already been determined, and so the speculation is over and 'will' is logically difficult.

That's quite a complicated answer, I'm afraid, but it's a nuanced part of the language which is hard to summarise in just a few words.  I hope my answer helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Ok, so reported questions tenses follow the rule of reported statements sentences. I was just not comfortable with using 'will' after 'if'.

Thank you very much,

Cristina

Submitted by ulhas gore on Sat, 01/06/2013 - 06:27

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Q 4

Possibly the correct structure is

Do you think they'll come.

V(aux)-N-V(lexical)-(that)-clause

Submitted by memetkarakaya on Sat, 16/02/2013 - 15:41

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Hello LearnEnglishTeam,

I agree with Zoje Gabili Vhere is the "Wh-" in the 4. question. 

Submitted by Zoje10 on Thu, 31/01/2013 - 17:26

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where is the v+n+(that)+clause in the sentence "do you think they`ll come" 

because i dont understand thanks

Submitted by jas emo boy on Fri, 30/11/2012 - 12:37

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your welcome sir and thanks for your answer oops yeah i know about ' have to ' but didn't know about had to thanks once again .

Submitted by jas emo boy on Sun, 25/11/2012 - 13:19

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sir , i have one conflict why you used first form of verb (see) with had.. cause i have read somewhere that we have to use verb's third form (past participle ) with have and had ( past perfect and past continuous )

Hello Jas,

Firstly, thanks for your very nice words about LearnEnglish in your other comment.

I think you're talking about the sentence 'He said that I had to see a doctor.' You're right that when we use 'have' or 'had' to make a verb form, we usually use the past participle or third form of the main verb. However, in this sentence we're not using 'have', we are using 'have to'! They are very different.

Have to has a similar meaning to must and is followed by the bare infinitive. You can read more about 'have to' in our grammar section.

Best wishes,

Adam

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by jas emo boy on Sun, 25/11/2012 - 13:14

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first of all thanks to the all member of learn english team. i am novice on your site and english too. i have been using this site for last 15 to 20 days and one thing i would like to say that your site is great boon for english learners. and i got lots of vital things about english here. and all podcast ,videos,games and grammar stuff .. thankyou so much form bottom of my heart. it's one of the best site that i have ever seen.