A student of mine has stated (based on her experience watching films and TV shows) that, when using Reported Speech, Americans will more often use 'he said that X' or 'he told us that X' whereas British people prefer to use 'he said X' or 'he told us X'.

I admit I have never noticed such a thing, nor have I heard of such a preference. Is my student on to something?

  • Based on my experience, it certainly seems to be the case. I've noticed a possibly related trend as an avid follower of UK sports publications, that even the most banal interview headlines usually get phrased as: "Manager reveals X" or "Player admits he likes grapes." Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 10:57
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    @Rome_Leader that may just be due to headlines needing to be terse though - do their American equivalents (ie sports papers/magazines) tend to say "that" in similar headlines? If not, then it's not evidence... Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 11:05
  • @MaxWilliams I'm saying that the preference is for words like "reveal" or "admit" that would normally be reserved for things actually unknown; American headlines don't show the same trend. e.g. "Player reveals he wants to win a championship" - big surprise, right? I'll try to dig up some direct examples (same story, different headline wording) Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 11:14
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    It is also obligatory if the content clause is preposed so as to precede the subject as in That I need help I can't deny. It's not always admissible; for example, it's inadmissible in a clause that is complement to a preposition like "before" as in *I left before that he arrived; in fact only a handful of preps such as "notwithstanding", "in order", and "provided" allow it. And in general, the omission of that is seen as less formal.
    – BillJ
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 18:08
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    To my American ears, that implies that you're paraphrasing, while omitting it suggests that you're quoting.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 9, 2016 at 20:39

1 Answer 1


I don’t know about television, but at least in Google Books it is the British who are little more likely to use that to introduce reported speech. Or, more precisely, were in the second half of the 1900s. The difference is slight though. It would take an avid reader with a superhuman ability to estimate relative frequencies to spot the difference.

Mucking around a bit with Paint I managed to put a few Google Ngrams together for easy comparison:

enter image description here Source: British Englis Ngram and American English Ngram.

This pick up a lot of different stuff, like “he said he would”, “John said she was”, etc. But it also picks up “‘Yes,’ said she”. So I looked up these longer strings, that are less likely to turn up false positives, and the result are qualitatively the same:

enter image description here Source: British English Ngram and American English Ngram.

With “told me” that is used a lot more, but the again the British are a little keener on it than Americans:

enter image description here Source: British English Ngram and American English Ngram

And just on more longer, single string to make sure there is nor funny composition effect biassing results:

enter image description here Source: British English Ngram and American English Ngram.

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