Reporting Speech with Noun Clauses (Intermediate)

June 24, 2010


A few posts back, we had talked about reporting what someone says using noun clauses.  The focus was mainly on reporting what someone says about a present action or an action that is presently happening.  You could review the post “Reporting Speech with Noun Clauses (Basic)” from January 26, 2010.

This time, we will find out how to report what someone says about a past event.

Before we talk about how to do this, recall how to talk about something that took place in the past.  If we do not have a point of reference but merely want to express that an event is complete, we use the simple past tense.

Ex.       My family celebrated Father’s Day by taking Dad out to dinner.

On a different note, both the present perfect and past perfect are used when talking about a past action in relation to another point in time.  The present perfect is used retrospectively to refer to a time prior to now.  The past perfect is used retrospectively to refer to some past time. 

Present perfect

Ex.       My dad has finished the bottle of wine he received. 

Past perfect

Ex.       My dad had wished for the wine for months before Father’s Day.

OK, so then, if someone we are talking to expresses a past action using the simple past, present perfect, or past perfect, how can we report his or her speech?  Read the following dialogue.


Joy says, “My family celebrated Father’s Day by taking Dad out to dinner.”

John replies, “Oh, then, did you and your family buy your dad a gift?”

Joy answers, “Well, my dad had wished for a bottle of wine for many months.”

John predicts, “OK, so then you guys must have bought him a bottle, right?!  How does he like it?”

Joy exclaims, “Oh, he loves it!  He has finished the entire bottle already!”

That wasn’t too hard, was it?  OK, so if John goes and tells another friend, Tom, what Joy had told him about how she celebrated Father’s Day, how should John do this?  He could simply use the past perfect tense in the noun clause!  Below is what John would say to Tom about the three things that Joy mentioned.


Joy said that her family had celebrated Father’s Day by taking her dad out to dinner.

Joy said that her dad had wished for a bottle of wine for many months.

Joy said that her dad had finished the bottle of wine. 

Remember that besides using “to say”, we could use other similar verbs (e.g. to tell, to state, to declare, to claim, to announce, to exclaim, to comment, to blurt out, to whisper, to point out, to reply). 

Also, the verb in the “that” clause (even though the “that” is eliminated in informal situations) will change for subject-verb agreement and tense agreement. 

Verb in the “that” clause to express Past tense

Direct speech Reported speech

Simple past

Past perfect

Present perfect


Past perfect