Reporting Verbs in English: 27 Words for “Say”

Reporting Verbs in English: 27 Words for "Say"

We use reporting verbs to report what somebody said — to tell someone what another person said.

Let’s look at an example:

Barry: “My five-year-old son can definitely fix your broken shower.”

You could report what Barry said using “say”:

Either directly:

“Barry said, ‘My five-year-old son can definitely fix your broken shower.'”

Or indirectly:

“Barry said that his five-year-old son could definitely fix our broken shower.”

But there are so many other words for “say” in English. We use different reporting verbs to give different messages about what someone said.

Compare these examples:

“Barry claimed his five-year-old son could fix our broken shower.”

“Barry insists that his five-year-old son can fix our broken shower.”

or even

“Barry promised that his five-year-old son could fix our broken shower.”

So let’s look at “say,” “tell” and 25 more reporting verbs in English.

Reporting verbs to give information

Say = “Here are someone’s words”

What it means

OK. We’re starting with something familiar and friendly.

We usually use “say” when we’re reporting what someone … er … said.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: said

You can use “say” to report what someone said directly:

“She said, ‘You won’t believe where my phone was made!’”

Or indirectly, using a “that” clause:

“She said that I wouldn’t believe where her phone had been made.”

(If you want more on reported speech, and why it can be a waste of time, check out my post on that.)

When we report things other than full sentences, like exclamations (“Hello!”), greetings (“Nice to meet you!”) or single words (“No!”), then we can use “say” (but not “tell”).

“My dad just said ‘Hmfff.’”

“Please say yes!”

Man proposing to woman on the beach with yellow outline around the couple

“I don’t know why I said ‘OK.’ What I meant was ‘No way!’”

Tell (someone) = “Here is some information.”

What it means

“Tell” is basically the same as “say.”

We use it to give some information, usually information about what someone said.

But there are some important differences:

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: told

First of all, when we’re reporting someone’s words, we use “tell” with an object.

Say vs tell

So, we tell someone something:

Generally speaking, we use “tell” with indirect speech but not direct speech:

“They didn’t tell us they weren’t coming. But it looks like they’re not.”

“Please tell me that you remembered the key!”

We can also use “tell” with nouns like “a joke,” “a story,” “the truth” and “a lie.”

“Sit down, kids, and I’ll tell you a story.”

“Shenni’s great! She’s really good at telling jokes.”

“Just tell me the truth!”

We can also use “tell” with a noun phrase, usually with a question word:

“Can you tell me where the station is?”

Or with “how to” or “what to”:

“I don’t want to tell you what to do, but if you ask Barry, you might get what you want.”

“Wow! That’s amazing! Tell me how to do it!”

(For more on “say” and “tell,” check out this blog post or this podcast.)

Add = “One more thing …”

What it means

You know this one, right?

Someone says something. It seems like they’ve finished. Then they just say one more thing.

Or, in other words, they add something.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: added

You can use “add” with direct speech:

“It’s so great to see you here, Jemima,” he said and then added, “And you, too, Barry, I suppose.”

You can also use it with a “that” clause:

“She said it wasn’t far but added that we might need to take a torch. And a sword. Just in case.”

Announce = “Hey, everybody …!”

What it means

When you announce something, you tell a group of people something.

So you might announce to your flatmates that you’re just going out to the shops.

Or the government might announce another Covid lockdown.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: announced

You can use “announce” with a “that” clause:

“Suddenly Barry walks into the room and announces that he’s just made seventeen kilograms of hummus and walks out again.”

You can also simply announce something:

“They announced their engagement on the same day that the queen died. So no one really remembered it.”

Toddler eating an ice-cream with yellow outline

“I’d like to announce my undying love for this incredible brand of ice cream. It’s just the best.”

Repeat = “Here is the information again.”

What it means

Again, we don’t have to spend too much time on this one, right?

I mean — repeat!

It means “Say it again!”

It means “Say it again!”

Like that.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: repeated

We use “repeat” with — you guessed it — a “that” clause.

“I need to repeat that we won’t have time to do the whole course before summer.”

You can also use it with direct speech:

“‘Stop it!’ she repeated. This time they heard her.”

You can also just repeat something:

“Can you repeat that word for me again?”

“I want you to repeat everything I say. Got it?”

Report = “Here’s an update on something.”

What it means

When we report something, we repeat information that we’ve somehow learned.

It could be information we’ve seen:

“I want to report the terrible things I saw at the cheese factory.”

Or it could be something more formal, like something that’s been researched:

“The government reported another rise in homelessness, yet they still continue with their policy of turning peoples’ houses into luxury accommodation for their horses.”

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: reported

You can use “report” in a “that” clause

“We’d like to report that everything is fine with the baby.”

You can also use “report” with a noun:

“Some locals have been reporting some strange sounds coming from the fields behind the church.”

And you can use “report” + “on” + a situation:

“We’ve been reporting on the climate crisis for years. No one seems to listen.”

Explain = “Here’s how this works.”

What it means

When you explain something, you’re basically showing someone how something works — with words.

You might be explaining the storyline of Game of Thrones, which, I’m told, is quite complicated.

Or you might want to explain why you were standing in a pool of water in the middle of the kitchen with a fish in your hand. I mean, that really takes some explaining.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: explained

You can use “explain” followed by a “that” clause:

“They explained that it would take too long to get there by boat.”

You can use “explain” with a question word clause:

“You need to explain what you’re doing in my shower at four o’clock in the morning.”

You can use it with a question word + “to” verb:

“You’ll need to explain to everyone where to go once they’ve entered the building.”

You can also use it with just a noun:

“No matter how many times he explains the rules of cricket to me, I never get any closer to understanding. How can a single match last five days?”

Describe = “Here’s some detailed information about something.”

What it means

“Describe” is similar to “explain.”

While we use “explain” to show us how something works, we use “describe” to talk about what something is — in detail.

So, for example, take the film The Usual Suspects.

You can describe the film by talking about things like the genre, the setting and the characters.

But, because The Usual Suspects is a very complicated film, you might also need to explain it. You might need to tell them why and how things work in the film so that they understand it.

In other words, we use “describe” for more static things, e.g. how someone looks.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: described

You can use “describe” with a question word clause (like “what I meant,” or “how we arrived there”).

“I can’t really describe how she did it. It was like magic!”

You can use it with “what to” + verb or “how to” + verb:

“Sorry. You’ll need to describe what to do exactly. I’m still not sure.”

And you can use it with a noun:

“In your own words, describe the night of the murder again.”

Reporting verbs to request something

Ask = “I’ve got a question. Or a request.”

What it means

OK. We all know “ask,” right?

Usually, we think about asking a question.

Like when you ask someone where the nearest computer arcade is or when you ask whether your love interest is going to be free this evening for dinner.

But we also use it to make requests.

So when you want someone to open the window or give you some help with the new Ikea table that refuses to obey the laws of physics, you ask them to do these things.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: asked

We can use “ask” with direct speech:

“‘Is it open on Sundays?’ she asked.”

In indirect speech:

“When you see Lilly, can you ask her if she’s around this weekend? We’re having a picnic and a hike.”

You can also use it with “someone” + “to” verb when you want to make a request:

“They asked me to work overtime with no pay. That was when I decided to join the union.”

Request = “Can you do something for me?”

What it means

It’s a request!

It means “I want you to do something!”

It’s actually a bit like “ask” in that sense.

The main difference between “request” and “ask” is that “request” is a little more formal.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: requested

You can use “request” in a “that” clause:

“We’d like to request that you please stop using the greenhouse as your own private squash court.”

You can also use “request” with a noun:

“We requested a statement from the company, but they refused to comment.”

Insist = “I’m asking you very strongly to do this. And I won’t give up.”

What it means

When someone insists on something, it means that they’re asking for something — but very strongly.

They’re asking in a way that means that it’s probably easier to just give them what they want. Even if you don’t want to.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: insisted

You can use “insist” with a “that” clause.

“You really must insist that they give you at least fourteen types of cake before you even sing a single note.”

You can “insist” + “on” verb “-ing.”

“She insisted on her child joining us.”

“Jeremiah insisted on paying for the meal.”

“The president insisted on having at least 30 security guards while visiting the kindergarten.”

Reporting verbs to finalise something

Agree = “OK. Let’s do it that way!”

What it means

OK, OK, OK. You know this one, too, right?

I mean, it’s the classic phrase for those English conversation classes we all remember from school.

“I agree.” “I don’t agree.”

Yep! When we agree with someone, then it means we share their opinion about it.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: agreed

We can use “agree” with a “that” clause:

“In the end, I managed to get him to agree that the time had finally come to wash that jumper.”

Very dirty white clothing with yellow outline

We can also use it with “to” + verb:

“I can’t believe you agreed to go on a two-week holiday to Paris with Barry! BARRY of all people! You’re going to hate it!”

Finally, you can use the “agree” + “on” + something structure:

“It took a long time, but we finally agreed on bright yellow for the kitchen walls.”

Decide = “I’ve thought about it, and now I know what I want to do.”

What it means

When you decide something, it’s usually at the end of some sort of process. One that probably involved some discussion, either with someone else or with yourself.

Perhaps you needed to spend a few hours discussing what colour to paint the kitchen. Then you ended up deciding on bright yellow. (Bad choice if you ask me. But hey, it’s not my kitchen.)

Or maybe you and your team spent about four weeks trying to figure out what to call your Instagram comic series. (You decided on “HinterSpace.” Awesome name, by the way. I’m looking forward to reading it.)

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: decided

You can use “decide” with a “that” clause:

“It was after Georgie started trying to kiss Jake that we decided it was time to go home.”

Like “agree,” you can use “decide”+ “to” verb:

“When it got dark, we decided to leave the lights off and enjoy the ambience.”

You can also use “decide” + “on” + something:

“We couldn’t decide on the colour, so we went with bright yellow.”

Reporting verbs to give advice

OK. We’ve reached the “advise,” “recommend,” “suggest” area.

These three verbs have similar meanings and, in a lot of situations, you really don’t have to worry about the differences between them.

Instead, just get a feeling for how these words feel — for their slightly different personalities.

Advise = “If I were you, I’d do this.”

What it means

When you advise someone, it feels like something worth considering.

We talk about “fatherly advice,” or you might get advised to follow the golden star by the old man of the mountain when you’re playing some sort of ’80s video game.

In short, when someone advises something, they know what they’re talking about. They’re coming from a position of authority.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: advised

The most common way to use “advise” is with object + “to” + verb:

“The government advised us to stay at home and watch the world end online.”

“My boss strongly advised me not to say anything about the data breach.”

We can also advise against something or doing something:

“We were advised against drinking the tap water in the hotel.”

“The travel agent advised against Djibouti for our summer holiday.”

Recommend = “This is a really cool thing. You should check it out.”

What it means

When you recommend something, it’s usually more personal than when you advise something.

You recommend something when you’ve discovered something cool, like a great restaurant or a new TV series, and you want to share your discovery with someone:

“Have you seen Succession yet? I strongly recommend it!”

But, as I said above, these three reporting verbs (“advise,” “recommend” and “suggest”) can have the same meaning sometimes.

So you can recommend the same things that you can advise:

“I wouldn’t recommend eating all that cake in one go. You’ll feel sick.”

“The old man recommended that I try lemongrass to cure my hiccups.”

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: recommended

You can use “recommend” with a “that” clause:

“That’s when my mum recommended that I stop trying to teach the cat to play chess.”

You can also recommend something or recommend an action with verb + “-ing”:

“I wouldn’t recommend that restaurant. The food actually moves around on your plate.”

“I didn’t know what to do, until my cousin recommended pushing the door instead of trying to pull it.”

Suggest = “Perhaps you should do this.”

What it means

“Suggest” is very close to “recommend.”

So you can suggest a good film to watch, or you can recommend a good film to watch. There’s a strong overlap here.

But “suggest” can also have a feeling of “Oh! That didn’t work? Maybe we can try this instead.”

It has a sort of “troubleshooting” feeling to it:

“Can I suggest not talking to anyone about this until the police have done their job?”

“We didn’t know what to do in the afternoon. Then Yoko suggested wind-surfing.”

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: suggested

You can use “suggest” with a “that” clause (surprise!):

“No one’s suggesting that you have to give away all your money. Just … you know … pay a bit of tax, please, Jeff?”

Jeff Bezos with yellow outline
Seriously, dude. image | CC BY 2.0

You can also suggest something (or suggest an action with verb “-ing”):

“I don’t suggest pushing that button. Seriously.”

“Can I suggest a week away in the Bahamas?”

In other words, it works in exactly the same way as “recommend.”

Reporting verbs to deal with mistakes

Admit = “OK! It was my fault!”

What it means

You made a mistake!

Now what?

There are two things you can do now.

You can run and run and run and run and run and run until no one will ever see you again, and you won’t ever have to deal with the problems you caused.

Comic style running boy in black and white
An option.

Or you could just admit what you did.

In other words, you can just say, “Yeah! I did this! It was my fault!”

“Admit” means “tell people that you did something wrong.”

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: admitted

You can use “admit” with a “that” clause.

“It took a long time to get her to admit that she’d stolen all the paper clips in the office.”

You can also use “admit” + “to” + verb “-ing” or, if you like, without “to” (just verb “-ing”):

“The President, after all the mistakes he made, never admitted to doing anything wrong.”

“He never admitted lying to the public about the war. But we all know he did.”

Deny = “I didn’t do it!”

What it means

Remember I said that when you make a mistake, you can either run away or admit it?

Well, there’s another option.

This is the option that politicians tend to prefer.

You can simply deny that you made a mistake.

“Deny” is the opposite of “admit.”

When you admit something, you’re saying, “Yes! I did it!”

When you deny something, you’re saying, “No! I didn’t do it!”

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: denied

You can use “deny” with a “that” clause … as usual:

“Do you deny that you stole the company car, drove through four farms and crashed it into a Las Vegas hotel?”

You can also use “deny” + verb “-ing”:

“We put so much pressure on her. But she just denied booking the wrong flights for the big company holiday.”

Blame = “It was your fault!”

What it means

When something bad happens, it’s not always easy to know who caused it — who made the mistake.

But when you’re sure you know who it is, then you can blame them.

When you blame someone, you’re saying, “You made the mistake!”

It could be about something small:

“Oh. The salt’s not in the right place. I blame Barry! He’s always putting it away somewhere weird. Check the T-shirt cupboard.”

Or something big:

“Protesters marched in the streets blaming the government for the massive increase in food prices.”

How to use it

With “blame,” you add the object (whoever you’re blaming).

You can also add “for” + noun (whatever the problem is).

“I blame Barry for the computer system failure.”

You can also add “for” + verb “-ing” (whatever the person did to cause the problem).

“No matter how tempting it is, you can’t blame your best friend for trying to help, even if it didn’t work.”

Accuse = “I think it was your fault!”

What it means

“Blame” and “accuse” are really similar.

While “blame” is direct and like saying, “It’s your fault,” “accuse” is more subjective. It’s like you’re saying, “I think it might be your fault.”

That’s why, when someone is arrested and taken to court, they’re accused of robbery and not blamed for robbery.

How to use it

You can accuse someone:

“The front door was left open again. I accuse Barry.”

And you can also accuse someone of something.

“He’s been accused of murder five times, but he’s never gone to prison.”

… or “of” verb “-ing”:

“The whole book club was accused of being a terrorist group.”

Apologise = “This was my fault, and I’m sorry!”

What it means

It takes a strong person to admit their mistakes.

But what happens after you admit it?

Well, the best thing to do, in many cases, is apologise.

To say sorry.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: apologised

We can apologise to someone or for something.

So you can say:

“I want to apologise for eating all the cake that you made for the book club meeting.”

Or:

“I think you need to apologise to Benny’s parents. Now!”

Or:

“She apologised to the management committee for the problems with the June report. The thing is — it wasn’t even her fault!”

Reporting verbs: other social functions

Promise = “You can trust me on this.”

What it means

So you’re going to help your cousin move house this weekend.

You’ve told her you’re definitely going to come, but she’s not sure she believes you. Not after you forgot her birthday last month.

But this time you want to make sure she trusts you.

That’s when you promise.

It’s like a guarantee.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: promised

You can use “promise” with a “that” clause, either without an object:

“I promise that I won’t be late.”

Or with an object:

“Can you promise me that you won’t do that again?”

You can also use “promise” with “to” + verb:

“Don’t worry. She promised to clean it all up afterwards.”

Remind = “Don’t forget!”

What it means

“Remind” simply means “Don’t forget!”

Sometimes you need to remember stuff, but not everything is easy to remember.

When I leave the house, for example, I sometimes forget to take out the recycling.

Or sometimes I need to remember to make some extra food because uncle Ted’s coming for dinner tonight.

These are things that I might forget.

But fortunately, I have a partner who can remind me to do these things. If she remembers, of course.

If we both forget, then uncle Ted gets nothing for dinner. Again.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: reminded

You can use “remind” with a “that” clause.

“You’ll need to remind your supervisor that the meeting starts a little earlier tomorrow.”

You can also use “remind” with “to” verb:

“Can you remind me to call Miami at around four o’clock? Thanks.”

Boast = “I do amazing things because I’m amazing!”

What it means

Some people just love themselves, right?

They look in the mirror all the time.

They look down on people around them.

Man on a pedestal looking down at everyone else
Like Tony

And they LOVE talking about themselves.

It’s either about how brilliant they are in general, or it’s about something they did that was amazing.

And when they talk like that? That’s boasting.

When you boast, you talk about yourself in a very positive, almost arrogant, way.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: boasted

You can use “boast” with a “that” clause.

“Barry won’t stop boasting that he always wins at bowling.”

You can also use it with “about” + noun or verb “-ing”:

“Don’t ask her about her new job. She’ll start boasting about her salary and working conditions and all the respect she gets and … well, it’ll be impossible to stop her.”

“Typical! He’s basically boasting about not doing the wrong thing. That shouldn’t be remarkable.”

Claim = “I haven’t got any evidence, but this is true!”

What it means

When you claim something, you’re asserting that you think something is true.

It’s about belief rather than facts.

After someone has claimed something (or made a claim), there’s the implication that we’ll need to check it to make sure that it’s true or legitimate.

Also, when we use phrases like “The angry man in his car on YouTube claimed …” we’re putting some distance between ourselves and whatever it is that the man said. We don’t want to be totally associated with his words.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: claimed

You can use “claim” with a “that” clause.

“The man on YouTube claimed that birds aren’t real and that lizards have now started living in our water supply, ready to come out of the taps and tell us who to vote for.”

You can also use “claim” + “to” verb:

“Him? I think he just came in off the street. He’s looking for a job. He claims to be able to speak four languages.”

When we use this construction, we’re often talking about something that’s happened.

So we often use the structure “claim to have” + verb 3:

“My grandad claims to have drunk tea with Gandhi and swum in a river with the Pope. But, then again, he sometimes claims to have been given the key to the lost city of Atlantis by the woman who made Elvis’s hamburgers, so I’m not totally convinced.”

Complain = “I’m not happy about this!”

What it means

What’s that?

A fly in your soup!

Very large fly in a bowl of soup
The terror!

Then you’ll need to see the manager immediately and complain!

What’s that?

It’s raining again?

Time to complain!

What’s that?

Someone on the internet is wrong about something?

Complain!

Whether we’re doing it formally (talking to the manager about that fly) or informally (just sitting around talking about the rubbish weather to anyone who’ll listen), complaining is something humans seem to enjoy.

I guess, since life can be annoying and tiring at times, it’s good to talk about it!

And, if something can be done, like getting a free meal from the fly-soup restaurant, then it could even be worth it.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: complained

You can (this will shock you) use “complain” with a “that” clause.

“The actors would complain that the costumes were full of insects and made their skin itch.”

You can complain to someone, and you can complain about something.

“Don’t complain to me about this! It’s not my fault!”

“If you live in England and complain about the weather, then that’s like becoming a chef and complaining about all the food.”

Threaten = “If you don’t do what I want, bad things will happen.”

What it means

Some people are awesome.

You can work together with them to achieve the same goal.

They have a “We’re all in it together” attitude.

Some people … less so.

For some reason, some people see everything as a kind of competition — something they have to “win” at.

That’s why, sometimes, people like to try and control other people.

One way to do that is by threatening them.

When you threaten someone, you say that you’re going to do something bad to them unless they do what you want.

For example, Barry threatened to tell the newspapers about the giraffes unless I gave him my new bike.

Or the police might threaten to arrest you if you jump in the town fountain and start singing Bowie songs. Again.

How to use it

Reporting verbs in English: threatened

We use “threaten” + “to” verb, usually with an added “if” or “unless” clause:

“She threatened to file a formal complaint unless the problem was taken care of straight away.”

“We threatened to call the police if he didn’t stop calling us up in the middle of the night.”


So that’s it: 27 reporting verbs in English. Now you know many different words for “say” and how to use them.

Now let’s practise. Can you answer these questions in the comments?

  1. What’s the best advice someone has ever given you? (e.g. My Dad advised me to …)
  2. Has someone ever threatened you?
  3. When was the last time you apologised, promised or boasted?

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