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Report structures: ‘that’-clauses

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Report structures: ‘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’.

  1. 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.

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
















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.

  1. ‘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.

  1. 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’.

  2. 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.

Other report structures

Main points

  • When reporting an order, a request, or a piece of advice, the reported clause is a 'to'-infinitive clause, used after an object

  • When reporting a question, the reported clause is an 'if-clause or a 'wh'-word clause

  • Many reporting verbs refer to people's thoughts and feelings

  1. If you want to report an order a request or a piece of advice you use a ‘to’-infinitive clause after a reporting verb such as ‘tell’ ‘ask’ or ‘advise’. You mention the hearer as the object of the verb before the ‘to’-infinitive clause.













Johnson told her to wake him up.

He ordered me to fetch the books.

He asked her to marry him.

He advised me to buy it.

If the order request or advice is negative you put ‘not’ before the ‘to’-infinitive.

He had ordered his officers not to use weapons.

She asked her staff not to discuss it publicly.

Doctors advised him not to play for three weeks.

If the subject of the ‘to’-infinitive clause is the same as the subject of the main verb you can use ‘ask’ or ‘beg’ to report a request without mentioning the hearer.

I asked to see the manager.

Both men begged not to be named.

  1. If you want to report a question you use a verb such as ‘ask’ followed by an ‘if’-clause or a ‘wh’-word clause.

I asked if I could stay with them.

They wondered whether the time was right.

He asked me where I was going.

She inquired how Abraham was getting on.

Note that in reported questions the subject of the question comes before the verb just as it does in affirmative sentences.

  1. Many reporting verbs refer to people’s thoughts and feelings but are often used to report what people say. For example if someone says ‘I must go’ you might report this as ‘She wanted to go’ or ‘She thought she should go’.

Some of these verbs are followed by:

  • a ‘that’-clause













We both knew that the town was cut off.

I had always believed that I would see him again.

  • a ‘to’ infinitive clause




He doesn’t want to get up.

  • a ‘that’-clause or a ‘to’-infinitive clause










She hoped she wasn’t going to cry.

They are in love and wish to marry.

‘Expect’ and ‘prefer’ can also be followed by an object and a ‘to’-infinitive.

I m sure she doesn’t expect you to take the plane.

The headmaster prefers them to act plays they have written themselves.

  1. A speaker's exact words are more often used in stories than in ordinary conversation

I knew I’d seen you,’ I said.

Only one replied,’ the Englishman.

Let’ s go and have a look at the swimming pool,’ she suggested.

In ordinary conversation it is normal to use a report structure rather than to repeat someone's exact words.


  1. Match the reports with the actual words used.

Example: 1 – h;

  1. They said they had to go.

  2. He said he would help if he could.

  3. She promised she would visit us.

  4. He suggested that we should write to the boss.

  5. They insisted we should stay a bit longer.

  6. They complained that they were too busy.

  7. She mentioned that she had met you.

  8. I explained that they should send a letter.

  1. You can’t leave yet. It’s only eleven o’clock.’

  2. Well, I’ll do whatever I can for you.’

  3. If I were you I would get in touch with the manager.’

  4. I bumped into your brother in London yesterday.’

  5. It’s no good just telephoning. Put something in writing.’

  6. I’ll certainly come and see you some time.’

  7. We have far too much work at the moment.’

  8. I’m afraid it’s time for us to leave.’

  1. Use the appropriate form of these verbs to complete the definitions and examples.

admit announce argue complain deny mention explain inform

  1. If you __inform__ someone that something is the case, you tell them about it. EG I __informed__ her that I was unwell and could not come to her party.

  2. If you __________ something, you agree, often reluctantly, that it is true. EG I must __________ that I had my doubts.

  3. When you __________ something, you say that it not true. EG Green __________ that he had done anything illegal.

  4. If you __________ something, you tell people about it publicly or officially. EG It was __________ that the Prime Minister would speak on television that evening.

  5. If you __________ , you tell someone about a situation affecting you that is wrong or unsatisfactory. EG He __________ that the office was not ‘businesslike’.

  6. If you __________ something, you say it, but do not spend long talking about it. EG I __________ to Tom that I was thinking of going back to work.

  7. If you __________ something, you describe it so that it can be understood. EG He __________ that they had to buy a return ticket.

  8. If you __________ that something is the case, you state your opinion about it and give reasons why you think it is true. EG Some people __________ that nuclear weapons have helped to keep the peace.

  1. Use one of the words given in brackets to complete each of the sentences below.

  1. I _explained_ to him that he would have to wait. (explained / told)

  2. He __________ me that it was time to go. (mentioned / informed)

  3. She __________ to them that they should reconsider their decision. (suggested / persuaded)

  4. We were __________ that you would pay the bill. (told / said)

  5. It was __________ that there would be another meeting the following week. (informed / announced)

  6. George __________ to me that he might look in to see me. (promised / mentioned)

  1. Rewrite the sentences below as orders or requests with a ‘to’-infinitive clause, and the words in brackets.

Example: ‘Do you think you could look after the children?’ (David / ask / Mary)

David asked Mary to look after the children.

  1. I think you should try to get more sleep.’ (John’s doctor / advise / him)

  2. You can come round and see us any time.’ (We / invite / our friends)

  3. Will you take the money to the bank, please?’ (Jack / tell / me)

  4. Don’t forget to come half an hour early on Tuesday.’ (Mr Brown / remind / the students)

  5. Please write to me every day.’ (Bill / beg / Maria)

Now do these with not and ‘to’-infinitive clause.

  1. You shouldn’t play with fire.’ (I / warn / the children)

  2. I don’t think you should go to England in the winter.’ (My grandfather / advise / me)

  3. You really ought not to go out alone after dark.’ (They / tell / the visitors)

  4. Please don’t make an official complaint.’ (The manger / persuade / her)

  1. Now do these sentences with ask and a ‘wh'-word clause.

Example: ‘What time does the match start please?’ (I / a policeman)

I asked a policeman what time the match started.

  1. Where are you going to spend the holiday?’ (Joe / Mary)

  2. Why are the tickets so expensive?’ (Everybody / us)

  3. How old are Mary’s children?’ (Frank / his wife)

  4. Who’s going to buy your house?’ (Mrs Jones / her neighbour)

  5. When are you planning to come to Darlington?’ (Bill / his friend)

  6. What are you going to do next?’ (I / Maria)

  7. Were can I get the bus to Liverpool?’ (Peter / a policeman)

  1. In this exercise you have to write what you would say in these situations.

Example: Ann says ‘I’m tired’. Five minutes later she says ‘Let’s play tennis’. What do you say? You said you were tired.

  1. Your friend says ‘I’m hungry’ so you go to a restaurant. When you get there he says ‘I don’t want to eat’. What do you say? You said

  2. Tom tells you ‘Ann has gone away’. Later that day you meet her. What do you say?

Tom told

  1. George said ‘I don’t smoke’. A few days later you see him smoking a cigarette. What do you say to him? You said

  2. You arranged to meet Jack. He said ‘I won’t be late’. At last he arrives – 20 minutes late. What do you say? You

  3. Sue said ‘I can’t come to the party tonight’. That night you see her at the party. What do you say to her?

  4. Ann says ‘I’m working tomorrow evening’. Later that day she says ‘Let’s go out tomorrow evening’. What do you say?

  1. Now you have to read a sentence and write a new sentence with the same meaning.

Example: ‘Listen carefully’, he said to us. He told us to listen carefully.

  1. Eat more fruit and vegetables’, the doctor said.

  2. Read the instructions before you switch on the machine’, he said to me.

  3. Shut the door but don’t lock it’, she said to us.

  4. Can you speak more slowly? I can’t understand’, he said to me.

  5. Don’t come before 6 o’clock’, I said to him.

Unit 7 Conditionals

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