We use "that" in speaking and writing very often. I am giving some examples:

I told him that teacher is busy or
I told him that teacher was busy.

He said that he will not do the work or
He said that he would not do the work.

Which form is correct? That seems to me very confusing.

Is there any difference between speaking and writing form?

EDIT: I am confused that which forms of verb I should use? would or will? is or was? Can you please give a guideline.

  • It seems to me you are reporting the speech, isn't? – Alejandro Dec 3 '15 at 16:07
  • Please check the edit. – Rayan Ahmed Dec 3 '15 at 16:12

The thats mark these sentences as 'indirect' speech, in which the speaker who utters the sentence reports the substance of a prior utterance in a subordinate clause headed by that.

The subordinate clause is conventionally cast in the same tense as the main clause:

He tellspres me that John ispres busy.
He toldpast me that John waspast busy.

He sayspres that he willpres not work.
He saidpast that he wouldpast not work. (Note that in this pair the auxiliary verbs will/would indicate future reference, but are themselves grammatically cast in the present-tense form. English has no future-tense forms.)

HOWEVER—If the substance reported (the content of the that clause) still holds at the time it is reported, you are free to cast the subordinate clause in the present tense. For instance:

I just sawpast Bill and he toldpast me that John ispres busy right now but willpres be free this afternoon.

I sawpast Bill yesterday and he toldpast me that he willpres not work tomorrow because he has to meet a client.

  • In the last example, why didn't you use would instead of will? I am bit confused. Isn't it similar to the second example? – Rayan Ahmed Dec 3 '15 at 16:50
  • 1
    @RayanAhmed I am illustrating the acceptable use of present-tense forms in reporting a past utterance. Here the "not working" still lies in the future ('tomorrow') at the time you report the past conversation, so it's OK to use present-tense will to indicate that. But if you were reporting what Bill said about something that was in the future then but in the past now, you would have to use would: "Bill told me last Tuesday that he would not work on Wednesday because he had to see a client that day." – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 3 '15 at 16:57
  • I knew that how twitter worked, but I didn't use that. Is it correct? – Rayan Ahmed Dec 3 '15 at 17:13
  • @RayanAhmed No; that sentence uses a different that, it has an ellipsis, and it has an error. Here's how you have to say it, with the part you can leave out in [] and the two verbs where you have a choice of tense bolded: "I knew [that] that is/was how Twitter works/worked. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 3 '15 at 17:23

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