If we can say: He is considered (to be) smart. We consider him (to be) smart.

By the same token, I have also heard: We think him (to be) smart or think him dead.

It is also correct to say: He is said to be smart.

But, Is it correct to say???: We say him to be smart.

For some reason it appears to follow the above structures, but sounds very strange.

  • 2
    We say: We say that he is smart.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 14:20
  • Related, but maybe the title needs to change it was really hard to find: Why is “He said me he was …” ungrammatical, but “He told me he was …” is not? Also related: 'Say' and 'Tell' difference!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 22:01
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA. Not exactly related. I am well aware that "to say someone something" is ungrammatical. The meaning here was not as in "to tell someone (to someone)", but as in "to know someone (of someone)".
    – Dim
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 22:39
  • Related does not mean that the two questions are identical with yours. The answers simply point out that an object pronoun (me, you, him, her, it, us, them) is commonly used with the verb "tell".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 22:43
  • The meaning of "We say him to be smart" is NOT "We have heard that he is smart". "We say" means "we speak/communicate" But fortunately, your comment has clarified why you are asking and your confusion.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 22:44

2 Answers 2


In standard English usage, the verb say can have as its object either a literal utterance, a noun phrase, or a subordinate clause. But even in the last two cases, the object must refer to at least a figurative utterance. Four examples:

 1. He glanced up and said, "No thank you."     [an utterance]
 2. She lowered her head and said grace.        [a noun phrase]
 3. He says that he'll do it.                   [a subordinate clause]
 4. Her facial expression said she was fed up.

In example 4 the object is a subordinate clause (with the conjunction that left out). And the utterance is only figurative: Her facial expression conveyed her exasperation as though it could speak, and if so it would say, "I'm fed up."

When it comes, as in your example, to expressing the opinion that someone is smart, the closest might be things like

 We declare him to be smart.


 We proclaim him to be smart.

But each of those has at least a suggestion of a speech act

  • +1 Interesting you should mention "speech act". I consider a lot of things happening here performative utterances (as per J.L. Austin). For example: up/downvotes, +1.
    – Eddie Kal
    Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 21:35

In speech, the most common way to express this is:

We say he is smart.

"We say him to be smart." is not idiomatic English.

Question re: "We think him (to be) smart or think him dead." is OK but it is somewhat literary, and somewhat BrE. It generally would not be used in contemporary AmE speech. But it is found in novels and older publications.

Think [someone] [adjective] is OK.

Generally, though, smart in British English means well dressed or well turned out.

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