Reporting Verbs

Download this explanation in PDF here.
Try an exercise about reporting verbs here.

In the page about reported speech, we talked about how to change direct speech ("I love coffee") into reported speech (Seonaid said that she loved coffee), using the verbs 'say', 'tell' and 'ask'. However, we can also use many other verbs to report what someone said, like 'promise', 'warn', 'advise' and 'recommend'.

Some of these verbs look a bit more complicated to use than 'say' and 'tell', but it's just a question of getting to know the verb patterns (or verb structures).

(As I'm sure you know, we can often choose if we want to use 'that' or not in English. I've put it in brackets () to show that it's optional. The meaning is exactly the same if you use 'that' or if you don't use 'that'.)

1: SAY

Let's look first at the verbs we've already talked about. The basic verb pattern for using 'say' for reported speech is:

say + (that) + clause (The direct speech for this is "I've already eaten".)

2: TELL

On the other hand, with 'tell' we need to use an object, a person who we tell the information to. See also my page about the difference between 'say' and 'tell' here.

tell + someone + (that) + clause (The direct speech for this is "I've seen the new film".)

When we are reporting orders, we can also use another pattern with 'tell':

tell + someone + to + infinitive 3: ASK

We use 'ask' to report questions or requests. For questions we use the pattern:

ask + someone + if / question word + clause For requests we use the pattern:

ask + someone + to + infinitive (Remember, my first two examples with 'ask' are no longer real questions, so we use the normal sentence word order. We don't use inversion. We say 'she asked them where the station was', NOT 'she asked them where was the station'. You can read more about this on my page about indirect questions and on my page about reported speech.)

Other reporting verbs follow a variety of patterns. I'm afraid there aren't any rules about which verbs follow which patterns. You need to learn each one.

4: ADVISE*

(= Give someone advice. Notice the different spelling for the verb and the noun.)

Advise + someone + to + infinitive Advise + (that) + clause Advise + against + verb-ing 5: AGREE

Agree + to + infinitive Agree + (that) + clause 6: APOLOGISE

Apologise + (to + someone) + for + verb-ing Apologise (+ to + someone) + for + noun 7: DECIDE

Decide + to + infinitive Decide + (that) + clause 8: ENCOURAGE

Encourage + someone + to + infinitive 9: EXPLAIN

Explain + (that) + clause Explain + noun + to + someone NOT: She explained me the grammar.

Explain + question word + to + infinitive Explain + question word + clause 10: INSIST*

Insist + on + verb-ing Insist + (that) + clause 11: PROMISE

Promise + to + infinitive Promise + (someone) + (that) + clause 12: RECOMMEND*

Recommend + verb-ing Recommend + (that) + clause 13: REMIND

Remind + someone + to + infinitive Remind + someone + (that) + clause 14: SUGGEST*

Suggest + verb-ing Suggest + (that) + clause NOT: I suggest him to come.

15: WARN

Warn + someone + (not) + to + infinitive Warn + someone + about + something
Negatives
To make the verbs that we have reported negative, we need to look at the verb pattern:
Try an exercise about reporting verbs here.

* Advanced Point
In formal English, some verbs that are followed by '(that) + clause' use the infinitive instead of a present tense verb. Some people suggest that this is a kind of subjunctive in English. You only need to worry about this in very formal writing.

Mostly, this doesn't make a difference, because the present simple form in English is often the same as the infinitive form. But when the subject is 'he', 'she' or 'it' or when the verb is 'be', we can see it clearly.