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


Reporting Speech with Noun Clauses (Basic)

January 26, 2010

There are many ways to improve our writing. One of them is using clauses in our sentences, which not only enhances our writing but increases its readability.  It makes a piece of writing “flow” better, as we like to say.  Often times, in writing, we report what someone else has reported to us from an informal conversation or a formal interview. These two things are achieved by the use of noun clauses.

Before we go into this topic further, what is a clause?  A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb.  A sentence is considered an independent clause as it could stand alone even though it is usually just called a sentence.  A dependent clause cannot stand alone.   

Jill made a New Year’s resolution.

        (independent clause)

Because she had made a New Year’s resolution, she vowed to stick to it. 

         (dependent clause)                                     (independent clause)

A noun clause is a clause which acts like a noun in the sentence. Compare the two sentences below.

We knew that she was not going to keep her resolution for long.

                                                (noun clause)

We knew English


OK, for today’s lesson, we are going to look at how we could report what someone else said by using a noun clause.  Let’s pretend that our friend Jill tells us the following. 

Jill said, “My New Year’s resolution is to lose twenty pounds!”

If we are to tell someone else what Jill told us, how can we say this? 


Jill told me that her New Year’s resolution was to lose twenty pounds.

Informal:  Jill told me her New Year’s resolution was to lose twenty pounds.

The difference is the elimination of “that” in the informal case.  Also, notice that the possessive pronoun was changed from “my” to “her” in the reported speech as we are referring to Jill and not talking about ourselves.

Another example:

Jill said, “She is also planning to lose some weight.” 

 Formal:            Jill said that she was also planning to lose some weight.

Informal:           Jill said she was also planning to lose some weight.

Besides using the verbs “to tell” and “to say”, we could also use other synonymous verbs (e.g. to state, to declare, to claim, to announce, to exclaim, to comment, to blurt out, to whisper, to point out, to reply).  Just remember that this verb will be in the past tense as you are expressing what someone else had told you earlier.  The verb in the “that” clause (even though the “that” is eliminated in informal situations) will change for subject-verb agreement and tense agreement.  The tense of this second verb will depend on how it relates to the first verb and the intended meaning. 

Verb tense in the “that” clause
Direct speech Reported speech
Simple present Simple past
Present progressive Past progressive




Happy New Year!  Hope you fulfill all your New Year’s resolutions!

Difference between ‘used to’, ‘get + used to’, and ‘be + used to’

July 30, 2009


These three phrases could be quite confusing as they all contain ‘used to’ but have different meanings and usage.

‘Used to’ conveys ‘past habit’ but does not mention when this habit happened or when it stopped.  Here, a bare infinitive (verb without the ‘to’ with no change in tense and no need for agreement with the noun) follows ‘used to’. 

For example-

            I used to drink coffee every morning. (This means that I had a habit of drinking coffee in the morning in the past but do not do this anymore.)

In ‘get + used to’ and ‘be + used to’, ‘used’ means accustomed.  The get form and be form would change to the appropriate tense and change to agree with the noun. 

Similar to ‘used to’, ‘be + used to’ conveys being accustomed to doing something in the past with the use of the past tense of be (i.e. was, were).  Usually, it conveys that this does not happen anymore.

            I was used to drinking coffee every morning when I worked at an office.

The ‘get + used to’ form shows the change of habit in the past with using the past form of get.  Usually, it conveys that this is still happening.

            I got used to drinking coffee every morning when I worked at an office.

A future but fairly certain conditional action could be conveyed by using ‘get + used to’ and a ‘will’ in front of it.  The present form of get is used. 

            I will get used to drinking coffee if I move to Europe as they have the best coffees in the world. 

On the other hand, when using the present tense of be (i.e. is, am, are), ‘be + used to’ conveys being accustomed to doing something in the past which one still does now.

            I am used to drinking coffee every morning.

            She is used to drinking coffee every morning.

            They are used to drinking coffee every morning. 

Notice that a gerund (verb which acts as a noun and ends in –ing) follows ‘get + used to’ and ‘be + used to’. 

Order of Descriptive Adjectives

July 28, 2009


A big red balloon?  A red big balloon?  Why is the former correct and the latter wrong?

English allows for an indefinite number of adjectives to occur before a noun, although normally no more than three are used.   For descriptive adjectives which appear before nouns, there is a rather fixed ordering although this is not absolute. 

Here is the order based on category:

Opinion-Size-Shape-Condition-Age-Color-Origin/Material (Noun)

Here are some of the common adjectives under each category:

Opinion- ugly, pretty, beautiful, poor, attractive, nice, sweet, precious, smart, childish, mature, charming, boring, athletic

Size- large, big, small, huge, little, tiny, short, tall, fat, skinny, thin, long

Shape- round, triangular, rectangular, irregular

Condition- broken, old, new, rare, clean, messy, expensive, cheap

Age- young, old, middle-aged, eighteen-year-old

Color- blue, white, black, red, etc.

Origin- English, French, Chinese, American, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Japanese, German

Material- wooden, plastic, metal, glass, paper, cotton


            the smart skinny teacher

            the tall Chinese boy

            the eighteen-year-old Chinese boy

            the tall, eighteen-year-old Chinese boy

Notice that adjectives which describe origin and material may be interchangeable. For example, both ‘a wooden French door’ and ‘a French wooden door’ are acceptable.

Related to adjective ordering there are two frequently asked questions.  First, when is and used?  Second, when is a comma needed and where?

For the first question, when there are two adjectives that are vastly different but from the same category which describe the same noun, then an ‘and’ is used in between these two adjectives.  Example-

            red and white scarf

            white and red scarf

Indeed, this seems to be most applicable for adjectives in the color category.

For the second question, there are three situations when a comma is needed.  First, when an adjective is repeated for the purpose of intensification, a commas is needed, like ‘tiny, tiny stars’ and ‘huge, huge elephant’. 

Second, when there are two adjectives in the same category which are similar in meaning or not incompatible with each other, so that either one could be omitted without a lost of the overall meaning, a comma is needed between them.  For example, ‘tiny, little stars’ and ‘charming, attractive waitress’.

Third, a comma is needed when there are three adjectives in sequence.  Usually the comma would be placed after the first adjective. An example would be ‘huge, grey African elephant’.  Besides this, when there are three adjectives, the above rules are still followed, for example ‘huge, grey and white elephant’. 

A tribute to Michael Jackson

July 26, 2009



The passing of Michael Jackson is a heavy loss to the entertainment industry and has brought me a bit of sorrow.  Although I cannot say that I’m a die-hard fan, I truly admire his musical and performing talents.  It is unfortunate that his life was overshadowed by controversy; however, I prefer to remember his contributions to music and nothing else.

Supposedly, Jackson is very selective on the interviews he accepts.  In a rare 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, a famous American media personality and host, Jackson reveals many aspects of his private life to her, including his childhood, and touches upon some of the circulating media gossip at the time.  (Please find the video on or other sites and look for parts 4, 5, and 6 or the middle of the interview.) This portion consists of a tour of Neverland Ranch, the amusement park that he once called home, and a music video clip.  In it, Elizabeth Taylor shares her opinion of Jackson.  Oprah also confronts Jackson with the rumor that his famed Moonwalk dance is fake, which Jackson then dispels by performing it live in front of her!  A transcript is not provided.  Try to listen to it a few times if you find it difficult to understand the first time.  (If you’re interested in watching the entire interview, search for it on


Elizabeth Taylor: If he has any eccentricities, it’s that he is larger than life, and some people just can’t accept that or face it or understand it.  

Oprah asks Elizabeth Taylor her opinion about Jackson, and she tells her that his actions may not be understood by others because he is “larger than life”, a positive phrase used to describe someone who is not simply ordinary.  Eccentricity is a noun and similar in meaning to the word weirdness but has a more positive connotation. 


Oprah: …he could crack some jokes

To “crack some jokes” means to tell some jokes.


Jackson: It brings out the child that lives inside everybody.

Here, Jackson says that the amusement rides that he built is enjoyed by both adults and children as adults also love to have fun like children do. 


Oprah: And so now, you are fulfilling all those [childhood] fantasies?

Jackson:  To compensate [for my childhood], yes, it’s very true. 

Oprah: But, do you think you could ever really recapture it [your childhood] though?

Jackson: I would not change the past. 

Look at the way that the two speakers use three different verbs (e.g. fulfill, compensate, and recapture) to talk about Jackson’s childhood and to answer each other, rather than with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  In a way, Jackson’s response to Oprah’s first comment and Oprah’s subsequent comment are rejections to the prior statement, which are a very smart play of words.  


Jackson: I love to do things for children.  I try to imitate Jesus. I’m not saying I am Jesus. I try to imitate Jesus in the fact that he said to be like children, to love children, to be as pure as children, to make yourself as innocent and see the world with eyes of wonderment, the whole magical quality of it all, and I love that.

Some question and wonder about Jackson’s friendliness towards children.  Jackson explains that he likes to be around children because children and simple and honest and he wants to help them, in the spirit of Jesus.  Look at the various ways that Jackson uses to describe this quality in children.


Jackson: We have children that come who are intravenously very sick, they are bedridden, and they can’t sit up.  These beds are hospital beds and they push a button and they move up and they move down.

Many of the children who visit Jackson’s Neverland Ranch are sick, confined to the bed (bed-ridden) and require an IV line (intravenous therapy) to survive. 


Oprah: I believe everything happens in people’s lives for a reason.  Do you think that had you not missed a lot of the life and fun and fantasy of childhood that you would be so in touch with children today?  Would you relate to them if you didn’t?

Jackson: I probably would but not as much that is why I wouldn’t change a thing.

The two questions in italics are grammatically complex and both contain the same meaning but in the opposite order.  ‘To be in touch with + something’ is the same as ‘relate to + something’ while ‘had not missed + something’ is the same as ‘did not miss + something’. 

Both are past conditional questions with an ‘if + would’ and presents an imaginative situation as it did not happen in the past.  Actually, the ‘if’ in the first question is deleted, in which case the subject you must inverted with the auxiliary verb had.   If the ‘if’ is not deleted, the question would be “do you think that if you had not miss a lot…” where the subject and auxiliary verb are not inverted. 

As a childhood star since five years old, Jackson never lived a normal childhood as he had to work everyday either recording songs, rehearsing, or performing. This is the topic of this part of the conversation.


Oprah: Where did the Moonwalk come from actually?

Jackson: Well, the Moonwalk came from these beautiful children, these black kids who live in the ghettos and the inner cities who are brilliant. They just have that natural talent for dancing, any of them- The Running Man – any of these dances.  They come up with the dances.  All I did was enhance the dance. 

Oprah asks Jackson about the origin of his famous Moonwalk dance.  Jackson credits children for giving him this inspiration saying that he only “enhanced” it.  The ghettos or inner cities are the part of a city where minority groups reside.  These residents are usually poor, and the areas may be overpopulated.  Ghetto is slang with a somewhat negative connotation, while inner city does not have such a negative connotation.


Jackson: I could show you a step or two, but I’m a little rusty right now. 

When Oprah asks Jackson to show her some dance moves, Jackson replies that he could show her only a few dance steps because he is “a little rusty right now”. Here, rusty is not used as a verb to describe the chemical change of nail turning brown but used as an adjective to describe being without practice.  Yet, as we can see, Jackson is still quite agile!  What an entertainer! 


Michael Jackson will be missed.

Obama’s inaugural speech

July 24, 2009



Obama’s inaugural speech is one of the greatest speeches given in our generation, which he delivered without needing to refer to a piece of paper!  From the standpoint of learning English, it is definitely worth learning from it.  For a full transcript of his speech, please visit the New York Times.

My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors.

As with any piece of writing, speeches also contain an introduction.  Here, Obama states the main ideas of what is to follow. In fact, these three themes are to echo throughout his speech.  Notice that one can add an “am” before the three adjectives (humbled, grateful, and mindful), so that it looks like the sentence “I am happy”.  It would be, “I stand here today [and am] humbled…” or rearranged so that the subject ‘I’ stays together with the verb and adjective, “Standing here today, I am humbled…” 

Then, notice that Obama chooses to use the passive voice in the prepositional phrase following the adjective.  The agents (the task, you, and our ancestors) are not concrete or specific.  This ambiguity draws in the listener as Obama is trying to reach a large audience. Also, notice that Obama could have used ‘by’ in the second phrase, “…grateful for the trust bestowed by you…”  Here, the ‘you’ is rearranged to highlight the importance of his audience and to draw them closer. 

Other examples: I am happy about the grade given by my teacher. 

She is blessed with financial stability her job has provided. OR She is blessed with financial stability provided by her job. 

Even though Obama’s speech is spoken and is meant to be heard, in normal conversations, the active voice is usually used.  Using the passive voice profusely in conversation is not appropriate.  Speeches such as these are actually more like a form of writing than conversation.  

The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents.

The choice of words throughout the speech is very clever, especially in this segment.  To give his audience a visual, Obama adds “rising tides of” in front of ‘prosperity’ and “still waters of” in front of ‘peace’.  To show the contrast of prosperity and peace, he uses two contrasting pictures of water.  Also, rather than saying “…the oath is taken amidst the current economic recession”, this is replaced with “the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms”, very appropriate figurative language and sticking to the same theme of water.  This segment concludes with “ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents”, which replaces the more commonly seen terms “forefathers” with “forebears” and “the Constitution” or “the Bill of Rights” with “founding documents”.  While using a variety of words is encouraged, be careful.  We need to make sure we fully understand the meaning and usage of the words.  One good source to consult is a Cobuild Dictionary. 

The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.

English learners sometimes avoid using short sentences, being afraid that teachers/graders/markers frown upon them.  Yet, actually, it depends on how it is used.  If used correctly, it could be quite effective, as demonstrated here by Obama.  Here, Obama talks about the war scene back when America fought for independence.  With these three short sentences, Obama paints a picture of the war.  Notice also that these three sentences are in the passive voice which makes the tone uniform, heightening the effect.  Such short sentences could be incorporated into writing stories and essays.  For example, in stories, it could be a scene opener.  As for essays, it could be used to put emphasis on a point. 

We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.  We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its costs.  We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.  All this we can do. All this we will do.

In this segment, notice Obama repeats the same sentence structure (We + will + verb + direct object) over and over again.  Here, Obama is trying to identify with his audience and such a uniform structure makes a bigger emphasis. The only exception is the sentence “All this we can do”.  This change in sentence structure is used as an attention catcher and by using “can” (meaning potential), Obama tries to instill confidence in his audience.  Yet, after this, he reverts back to the same structure “All this we will do”.  Such is effective in persuasive writing.

Participles used as Adjectives

July 23, 2009



Do the sentences below have a difference in meaning?

I am bored.

I am boring.

The answer is ‘yes’!  While ‘bored’ and ‘boring’ are both used as adjectives in these two sentences, there is a difference in meaning.

The adjective ending in ‘ed’ is called a –en or past participle, while the one ending in ‘ing’ is called a –ing or present participle.  Usually, these adjectives are derived from verbs which convey emotions. 

Some of the common verbs with such a function include alarm, amuse, annoy, bore, calm, comfort, concern, convince, defeat, disappoint, disturb, embarrass, encourage, excite, interest, love, please, satisfy, surprise, tire, and worry.

When the past participle (-en form) is used, it refers to the person experiencing the emotion.  Here the person is the object of the emotion or experience.

I am bored. (I feel bored. An outside factor that is not given caused me to feel bored.)

She is disappointed that she failed the test. (She experienced disappointment because she did not do well on the test. The test caused the disappointment.)

He is frightened by the ghost. (He experienced fear. The ghost caused the fear.)

When the present participle (-ing form) is used, it refers to the cause of the experience.  This cause is the subject of the experience. 

I am boring. (I caused boredom meaning ‘I am a boring person’.)

She is disappointing.  (She disappointed someone. She caused the disappointment.)

He is frightening. (He frightened someone. He caused the fright.)