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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Soumis par Nevı le sam 26/06/2021 - 07:53

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Hello fantastic team I am writing to find out more about following sentence. "UNESCO proposed this week that the Great Barrier Reef be added to its List of World Heritage in Danger." I felt very confused when I saw the part -be added- in 'that'clause. Because I usually consider and see clauses like normal a sentence. While here we have-be added- I really want to know why ' is added' is not used here like a normal sentence. I would be grateful if you could explain it to me. Best wishes!

Hello Nevi,

'be added' is a subjunctive form -- more specifically a passive form in the subjunctive. In this case, the subjunctive is used to express a desire for something to be different than it actually is.

I'd refer you to the Wikipedia page on the English subjunctive to learn a bit more about this. It's a bit technical in places, but if you focus on the examples, I think it will help you make sense of it.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Nevı le sam 01/05/2021 - 09:38

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Hi incredible team, I am trying to learn some verbs followed by a 'that' clause or 'if and question word' and I want to ask something. Which tense should I use in 'that' clause and 'if' or 'question word '? I suppose we should apply time shifting like we apply reported speech(say,tell). But I saw sometimes there is no time shifting. I would be grateful if you could explain it to me. Best wishes.

Hi Nevı,

Could you give us some example sentences with the structures you mean? That will make it easier to discuss :)

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Nevı le lun 03/05/2021 - 07:04

En réponse à par Jonathan R

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Of course, teacher. For example, 'I forgot I lent you that money.' -Here tense in that clause is 'past simple' 'I forgot you speak Spanish' -Here tense in that clause is 'present simple' I mean can I also say 'I forgot I lend you that money or 'I forgot you spoke Spanish' What's the difference when I make tenses in that clauses different (simple past) ?, teacher. I would be grateful if you could explain to me. Best wishes.

Hello Nevı,

'I forgot I lend you money' is not correct because the action of lending is an action that doesn't extend throughout time -- you lend someone something and then the action of lending is done. The item is still lent or borrowed, but the action itself is considered over in the way English sees it.

'I forgot you spoke Spanish' is correct, but so is 'I forgot you speak Spanish', and they both mean the same thing (unless the person no longer speaks Spanish). Since the ability to speak a language is more of a state than an action that begins and ends quickly (like 'lend'), then we can use the present tense to refer to that ability. But we can also use the past tense to refer to that past situation more than the person's current ability, which is why 'spoke' is also correct.

Hope this helps you make sense of it.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Can I make following inferences teacher? -If the action in 'that' clause doesn't extend throughout time, I should use in past simple. But if the other verb not being in that clause is past simple. If the action in 'that' clause is more of a state, I can use past or present simple in that clause.But again if the other verb not being in that clause is past simple. Best wishes!

Hello Nevi,

Yes, it sounds to me as if you understand this correctly. We generally backshift the tenses (as you describe), though sometimes we don't when speaking of something that is still true or generally true. But you can also use a backshifted tense (e.g. past simple) when speaking of something that is still true or generally true and you're mostly concerned with the past situation rather than the general truth or current state.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for your replies about other topics!. Teacher,I usually write all British Council Teachers's answers on my notebook so I can look them later. However, I saw a sentence about the time shifting we discussed here and I am wondering sth. The sentence is 'Immigrant says he spent five days on the boat' Here also The action of spending is an action that doesn't extend throughout time like you said so we cannot say '... says he spends five days...' As you said in your previous comment about the sentence above 'I forgot I lend you money' is not'correct. I would be grateful if you check whether my interference is true. Thank you in advance.

Hello Nevi,

In this case, 'spend' refers to the passing of time, so it is an action that extends through time, i.e. through those five days.

Does that help you make sense of it?

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

I understand what you mean, teacher. So, we can say 'Immigrant said he spends 5 days on the boat.="... he spent 5 days..."? You'd be doing me a huge favour.

Hello Nevi,

That doesn't sound right to me unless the immigrant is talking about something they do regularly. For example, if he/she spends Monday through Friday on a boat every week, then that would work. But he/she is talking about their trip to their new country, which was one trip in the past, then 'spent' would be the correct form.

Is this perhaps a news headline? The lack of 'an' or 'the' before 'immigrant' isn't correct in most other situations. If this sentence isn't from a headline, perhaps it's from a source that just isn't grammatically correct.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le dim 25/04/2021 - 20:23

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Hello. Which order is correct in the following reported sentence? Why? - My mother asked what time it was. - My mother asked what time was it. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

The first version is correct. The reason is that the sentence is not a question, so there is no need for an interrogative structure (inversion).

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le lun 19/04/2021 - 23:33

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Hello Team. Could you please tell me which form is better in the following sentence without any more context? - I said I (believed - had believed) in magic when I was young. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Both forms are grammatically possible here, so neither is better or worse - it depends what you want to say. Had believed tells us that the speaker no longer believes in magic; believed does not tell us about his or her current views.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le lun 05/04/2021 - 05:54

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Hello. Could you please help me to decide which form is correct? Why? - I asked her how old she was when she started working in the cinema. - I asked her how old she had been when she started working in the cinema. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Both forms are correct. Most of the time we'd use the first one, but if you wanted to put some emphasis on her age just before she started working, you could use the second one.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le sam 20/03/2021 - 04:21

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Hello Team. Could you please help me? Is the following sentence correct using past simple along with back-shifting the time word? - He admitted that he made a mistake the night before. In other words, Must we replace "made" with "had made"? Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I think both are possible. However, without context the sentence is ambiguous: it's not clear if the admitting was the night before (and the mistake earlier) or the mistake was the night before (and the admitting in the present in narratve terms0.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le sam 02/01/2021 - 11:02

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Hello. I'm confused about the answers of this MCQ question. Why? - "I asked if Tom was at home." Who is the possible addressee? (a- Tom b- Someone else c- a & b) Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Though I don't know the context, I would imagine that the answer is 'someone else'. After all, if you are speaking to Tom then you don't need to ask if he is at home, so the question would make no sense.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le dim 27/12/2020 - 09:38

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Hello Could you please help me? I think all of the choices are correct, right? What are the differences? "I must leave tomorrow."- He said that he ((had to - must - would have to - will have to) tomorrow. Thank you so much.

Hi Ahmed Imam,

Yes, I agree :) I think all the options work. Two of them (had to / would have to) are the backshifted verb forms that are normally used in reported speech. But the other two options (must / will have to) are also correct, because the reported speech sentence includes tomorrow.

I don't find any major difference in meaning between the four options, only that the forms with have/had to leave are more likely to mean an externally imposed obligation (i.e. somebody or something is forcing him to leave), while he must leave could be an external or an internal obligation (i.e. leaving is his own personal choice; he wasn't forced to do it).

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le jeu 24/12/2020 - 00:04

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Hello. Another question please. Could you help me choose the correct answer? Why? Tom asked me where (I had gone - I went) the day before. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Both of these are used, but I'd recommend the 'had gone' form.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le mer 23/12/2020 - 20:48

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Hello. Could you please help me to correctly change the following sentence into reported speech? - Tom said to me,"While I was cooking, I burnt myself." I tried the following but I am not sure. 1- Tom told me that while he was cooking, he burnt himself. 2- Tom told me that while he had been cooking, he burnt himself. 3- Tom told me that while he had been cooking, he had burnt himself. 4- Tom told me that while he was cooking, he had burnt himself. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

I'd recommend the first sentence for most situations. The fourth one's also correct, though I think it'd be more natural to switch the order of the clauses: 'Tom told me that he'd burnt himself while he was cooking.'

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Kim Hui-jeong le sam 27/06/2020 - 00:19

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I'm curious about the method to decide the tense of a subordinate clause(not only a noun clause but also an adjective clause and an adverb clause). I'll give an example exercise right below. He majored in physics in college. And also, Emma told me yesterday that he (had also majored/also majored) in philosophy in college. I'm curious about whether I can link the tense of a subordinate clause with not only the main clause of it, but also a totally different sentence if only what time I'm talking about is obvious.

Hello Kim Hui-jeong,

Generally, we do not need to backshift the verb in reported speech when the facts described have not changed between the time of the original speech and the time when it is reported. It is not wrong to shift the tense back, but it is not necessary. However, if the facts have changed then shifting the tense back is used to indicate this. For example:

"I love you."

> She said she loves me. [she loved me then and she still that loves me now]

> She said she loved me. [she loved me then; it is not clear from the sentence if she still loves me now]

 

In your example, the fact cannot have changed, so both options are possible.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par kiwikiss0319 le mar 16/06/2020 - 14:40

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Hello there, Jeff has answered his wife’s demand that he ____ full confession of his errors and offenses. A) made B) makes C) make D) has made Would you be kind enough to explain the grammar rule applied in this case? Or are there references I can look up for this kind of sentence patterns? Thank you in advance.

Hello kiwikiss0319,

The verb demand follows this pattern:

demand (that) sb do sth

In this pattern, do is the bare form of the verb. It is actually the present subjunctive form:

She demands that he go now.

The police are demanding that she give them the passcode to her phone.

In your example demand is a noun but the construction remains the same.

 

If the action is in the past then the past subjunctive is used:

She demanded that he went immediately.

The police were demanding that she gave them the passcode to her phone.

 

Other verbs which follow this pattern include insist, suggest, recommend and propose. As you can see, many verbs like this have a similar meaning.

You can read more about the subjunctive in English here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_subjunctive

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le mer 22/01/2020 - 18:53

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Hello. Is the following sentence correct using "if" or it must be "whether" instead. - The teacher asked me if I visited France or not. Thank you.

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le ven 17/01/2020 - 16:29

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Hello. Could you help me? Which verb form is correct? He asked me just now if I will watch the football match at the stadium. He asked me just now if I would watch the football match at the stadium. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Both forms are possible. In reported speech (including reported questions) there is often a tense shift backwards, which would make 'Will you watch...' into '...if I would watch...'. However, the shift is not always necessary. If the event (the match) has not yet taken place then will is also possible. There is no difference in meaning in this case.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le jeu 19/12/2019 - 12:46

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Hello. Are the two sentences correct? - Jana has just told Hana that they are going to their friend's party tonight. - Jana has just told Hana that they were going to their friend's party tonight. I am confused when the reporting verb is: "has just told", "said a moment ago". I think we must not backshift the tense with these statements. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam

The first sentence is correct, but the second one is not. If you changed 'has just told' to 'just told', then it would be correct, especially in American English, where it's very common to use the past simple with 'just' to refer to a very recent past.

Please note that you might hear a sentence like the second one in informal speaking from time to time, but it is not a standard form.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le jeu 19/12/2019 - 12:34

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Hello. Could you please help me? To change the following sentence into reported speech, are the two following sentences correct? "Before I went home, I had done the shopping." - I told the manager that before I went home, I had done the shopping. - I told the manager that before I had gone home, I had done the shopping. Thank you.

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Without any other context, the first sentence is the one I would choose. While the second sentence is not grammatically incorrect, it does not seem very natural to me.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Risa warysha le lun 22/07/2019 - 09:10

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Hello sir,... Could you help me with this clause. 'I know what makes you happy.' Should we always use 'makes'? Or can we use 'make' instead ? And if we can, what is the difference.? Thank u, sir. Have a great day.

Hello Risa warysha

'makes' is what we say here. 'what' can include the idea of plural things too, but we just use a singular verb after it in this case.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le ven 04/01/2019 - 06:45

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Could you please help me? We are studying the subjunctive but we face different forms and explanations about it. I am confused about some sentences. Is the following sentence correct or we have to change "are wearing", if so what form or forms we can change it to? It was cold outside so my mother recommended that we are wearing coats. Thank you so much

Hello Ahmed Imam

As you suspected, that sentence is not idiomatic. I'd suggest 'that we wear' (or perhaps 'that we should wear', though I prefer the former) instead.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Ahmed Imam le ven 04/01/2019 - 06:37

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“Why don’t we have a picnic?” I said. (Direct speech) I suggested that we (had - have) a picnic. (Reported) I know that " have" is the correct subjunctive but some say that "had" is also correct. Please, tell me the difference in detail. Thank you

Hello Ahmed Imam,

Suggest has more than one meaning. In my examples below I will change 'we' to 'they' for clarity, since certain meanings (speculation and uncertainty past events, for example) are hard to express about yourself.

 

When we want to make a proposal, we usually use the present subjunctive:

I suggested that they have a picnic.

[Why don't you have a picnic?]

 

It is possible to use the past form. However, there is some ambiguity as to the the meaning of 'suggest'. It may have the same meaning as in the first example, but it can also meanssomething like 'offer an explanation':

I suggested that we had a picnic.

[Why don't you have a picnic?]

or

[My explanation was that they must have had a picnic]

 

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par ihsan_qwerty le mer 24/10/2018 - 00:29

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Hi FANTASTIC TWO in youtube, I've seen a video about reported speech that the teacher said: "Reported speech usually only used for writing. So we don’t really have to worry about all these crazy rules when we speak " is it right? it's not necessary to use it when we speak? and how about international test exam such as IETL in speaking part? Thank in advance

Hi ihsan_qwerty,

There is no reason reported speech cannot be used in conversation. It depends entirely on what you are talking about and what you want to say.

YouTube is not an accredited school by any means. Remember that anyone can create a video and put it on the site, and make any claims they wish.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Soumis par Nam Phan le mer 11/10/2017 - 00:21

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Hello In the sentence "He said that I had to see a doctor". "I" mean him or mean the reporter? I concern about direct and indirect report. Like I understood that he had to see a doctor or I myself had to see a doctor? Thank you for your help!

Soumis par Peter M. le mer 11/10/2017 - 06:07

En réponse à par Nam Phan

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Hello Nam Phan,

In this sentence the pronoun 'I' refers to the person who is reporting the words. To make it clearer, compare these two alternatives:

Paul said that I had to see a doctor. [The person telling us this is sick]

Paul said that he had to see a doctor. [Paul is sick]

 

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team