Quick context, work as a translator.

I had a short blurb I had to translate where I basically rendered it as:

"Bob spoke about how Countryland was one of the countries that suffered greatly from the Big Bad Thing, and that he wanted to hold a photograph exhibition in Hereland."

(Names and places changed for privacy/company policy reasons)

Is there anything wrong with making it "said that Countryland..." Is it ungrammatical? If so, what would be the correct word(s) to use?

My proofreader initially changed "spoke about how" to "told that" which was ungrammatical, so I told her that, to which she responded "change it to 'said or said that' then", which I felt was wrong but could not explain why.

All the stuff I came across online explained that:

  • "Say" is when you pronounce words, express a thought/opinion, for stating a fact, affirming something, declaring something, etc. and is also a one-way sort of action, i.e. doesn't necessarily imply there's more than one person in the situation at hand. It is also doesn't take a person as its object, not without some modifying/adding extra words.

  • "Tell" is for giving information to somebody through speaking or writing and needs a person after it as the object. Unlike Say, it is a "two-way" sort of action, where it implies the existence of two parties conversing with each other.

  • "Speak" is for languages and for general conversation, no specific details usually expressed.

  • "Talk" is more or less the same as speak, but more informal.

  • 2
    Welcome to the site! As written, it's a bit unclear what you're actually trying to ask us here. Could you possibly edit the question to make it more obvious? Maybe a structure like "My proofreeder told me to change X to Y, but Y seems ungrammatical to me. Is Y grammatical? What is the correct form for me to use in this context?"
    – ymbirtt
    Commented Sep 20, 2018 at 12:35
  • There is nothing wrong with spoke about how Countryland was, although you could change it to spoke about Countryland being if you don't like the presence of how. Personally, the only thing I noticed is that I'd tend to say photography exhibit rather than photograph exhibition. But that's just personal preference. Commented Sep 20, 2018 at 12:35
  • 1
    Both are fine ('said that' and 'spoke about') But 'spoke about' could mean he spoke about the topic in general 'Said that' is just repeating the words he used or perhaps a paraphrase if it's not direct speech. With 'tell' you need to add an object pronoun: 'told me' etc.
    – S Conroy
    Commented Sep 20, 2018 at 13:13
  • 2
    The text as given isn't syntactically valid, because there's no "main verb" (speak about, say, tell, etc.) in the second clause (after the comma). This can be fixed by changing the first verb to Bob said [that] Countryland was..., in which case we can reasonably delete some or all of the implied highlighted repetitions in ...and [he said that] he wanted... This problem arises because the syntax of initial spoke about doesn't match the "repeating" context of the second clause, so it can't be "deleted" as per my "to say [that]" alternative. Commented Sep 20, 2018 at 13:17
  • 2
    If your proofreader changed it to "Bob told that Countryland was ..." then you absolutely need a new proofreader and you shouldn't feel the need to justify anything to them.
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 20, 2018 at 18:48

2 Answers 2


Change the phrase spoke about how to described how and the problem becomes clearer:

He described how the roof leaked and that he wanted to fix it.

If you don't add the verb said, -- and said that he wanted to fix it, you have a clause introduced by that just dangling there. It doesn't act as a second clause that how governs:

*He described how that he wanted to fix it. ungrammatical

*He spoke about how that he wanted to fix if.ungrammatical

You need to strike that.

He described how he wanted to fix it.

He spoke about how he wanted to fix it.

Or if your intention is not to say that he went on to talk about the details of the repair he envisioned, but only that it was his intention to fix the leak, you would eliminate how and change described to said:

He said he wanted to fix it.

In your example, it is not clear whether you want how to govern that he wanted to hold a photograph exhibition in Hereland. If that is your intention, strike that and consider repeating how:

Bob spoke about how Countryland sucked and (how) he wanted to hold a photograph exhibition in Hereland.

If I had to focus on one thing, it would be how to use the word how

Many native speakers use how fairly sloppily to introduce a bare statement of fact:

I told you how I like chocolate.

when it would be more idiomatic (more "mainstream") to use that there:

I told you that I like chocolate. "that" is optional

For the sake of clarity, if you're not speaking about the manner or details or degree of something, but merely stating the bare fact, use that not how to introduce the statement of fact.

Thus, you might consider changing "spoke about how" in your first clause to something else, like stated or said:

Bob stated that Countryland sucked and that he wanted to hold ...

unless you mean to say that Bob described in some detail how Countryland sucked or the particular manner or degree to which Countryland sucked:

Bob went on and on about how Countryland sucked and how he wanted to hold a photography exposition in Hereland.

And always check to see if the sentence would be clearer if how is repeated when you have clauses joined by and in such a sentence.

In that last sentence about Bob, the word about could be eliminated. If it isn't eliminated, you ought to repeat how, since about becomes the governor of what follows and "about ... he wanted to hold a photography exposition" is ungrammatical. To eliminate that jarring effect where the reader or listener has to "mentally" repeat how to make the statement grammatical, the writer or speaker can proactively repeat how. Doing so makes the sentence clearer and eases the burden of the reader or listener.










"He said [that]" followed by a clause is fine, although 'that' might also be the first word of the following clause.

"He told that" followed by a clause is bad (although grammatical), because it is likely to create a 'garden path' where the reader expects an indirect object before the object clause.

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