I have often come across sentences of an indirect speech that do not contain 'that'. As a standard rule taught in schools here, we include 'that' when we turn a direct speech sentence into indirect.

He said, "I'm coming"

should be...

He said that he is coming.

But on the BBC, I found this sentence:

Search and rescue agency chief Bambang Soelistyo said an underwater vehicle was being lowered to take pictures.

On the same page:

He said the larger of the objects was 10 metres by five (32ft by 16ft) but that strong currents made operating the underwater vehicle difficult.


Mr Soelistyo said on Saturday that the large objects had been detected by sonar from an Indonesian navy ship.

  • I think we include 'that' only if the statement is 'exclusively' spoken by a person. In those examples, those are their opinions? Maybe? I'm not sure! +1 for this question though! – Maulik V Jan 3 '15 at 12:49

Omitting that in this sort of context is quite ordinary, and acceptable in all registers.

In these sentences that acts as a subordinator (some grammarians call it a complementizer): it tells the reader or hearer that the following content clause (a clause headed by a finite verb) is subordinate to the head clause.

Subordinator that may be omitted in many circumstances. The 'rules' are fairly complicated (they are detailed in CGEL, Ch. 11, §3.1), but the one which is operative here is that that may be omitted when “the content clause is complement to a common and quite general verb of cognition or communication” (CGEL, 953). The that clauses in your examples are all complements of the verb SAY, and SAY is exactly that kind of verb.

Note, by the way, that in your last example the that is required as a pragmatic matter: without the that it is unclear whether on Saturday modifies the head clause (Mr S said it on Saturday) or the subordinate clause (large objects were detected on Saturday).


You're right, technically, but colloquially the that has come to be somewhat optional where its absence does not introduce an ambiguity.

Also, holding up the BBC News website as an example of "proper English" is not a good idea; I find spelling mistakes and grammatical errors on it daily.

  • You just rose great doubts in my mind about the credibility of the BBC! Not sure, how to respond! :( Natives already indirectly advised me to stop referring Indian Newspapers and other lit and now you (probably native!) coming up with this! Phew! No source to learn the language for a non-native like me now.... – Maulik V Jan 5 '15 at 5:36
  • 1
    @MaulikV: Try the Independent or the Guardian. Much more reliable. Of course, I don't know whether they will be to your tastes politically! – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 5 '15 at 8:08
  • The Guardian is so infamous for typographical errors that it has the nickname 'The Grauniad'. Anything that's published on a tight schedule is prone to errors. I don't think the BBC news is really that much worse than anywhere else. – ssav Jan 7 '15 at 13:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.