I've been taught that in "Reported Speech", the subordinator "that" is a signature of "indirect speech". For example:

He said, "I will be late." (Direct Speech)

He said that he would be late. (Indirect Speech)

But, it is wrong to say or write that:

He said that, "I will be late." (Wrong!)

However, I occasionally see counterexamples such as this Wikipedia Article:

In 2000, Robert Scheer created the website New Age Journal, which states that "We are not affiliated with any magazines printed on paper."


Is this a correct usage of the conjunction "that" in Direct Speech? Does it depend on the reporting verb and with some verbs, such as "to state", we can use the conjunction "that"?

  • I think most people would think this is effectively just nit-picking pedantry. But it certainly doesn't make any difference which specific verb is used (states, says, affirms, declares,...). Nov 24, 2019 at 17:21
  • 1
    The only thing wrong with the version that you say is "Wrong!" is that, stylistically, there should be no comma indicating a speech tag. Without the comma it doesn't introduce speech; rather, the quotation marks indicate a quotation—which is perfectly fine. As such, the final sentence is not really a counterexample, because it's stylistically different. It's the presence or lack of a comma that sets the two apart, not the presence of that. Nov 24, 2019 at 17:26
  • Does 'direct speech' cover unspoken quotes? Nov 24, 2019 at 18:00
  • 1
    Wiki is wrong. The subordinator "that" introduces only indirect speech. Although embedded direct reported speech is complement of the reporting verb, it is not a content clause, not a clause at all, but embedded text, so the inclusion of "that" would be quite wrong. Indirect reported speech, on the other hand, is a content clause and "that" is fine, though optional.
    – BillJ
    Nov 25, 2019 at 11:53
  • While the relative adverb "that" might introduce "indirect speach", that "that" that that quote has has not that "that" but something else, perhaps. I think that that that that is superfluous, by th way. Potentially, the editor of that article committed a freudian slip and was thinking of indirect speech and of them and himself as we. It's not ambiguous anyhow, unlike you said that "I am an Idiot", which reminds a bit of the Loony Toons' Duck Season Rabbit season switcheroo jokes.
    – vectory
    Dec 27, 2019 at 21:44

3 Answers 3


One can write a sentence with a partial quotation:

Direct speech: We live in a madhouse! We have to move.

She says they "live in a madhouse" most of the time.

This is unobtrusive: the quotation is direct speech, because the exact words are repeated, made to fit into the syntax of the sentence, which was easy enough. It is a predicate, so it fits together with the subject they and the adverbial phrase most of the time to form a complete clause.

Direct: You know that they like it here.

She says that they "like it here".

Similar: no problem.


?She says that "they like it here".

This would also be direct speech, because the exact words are repeated. It is made to fit within the syntax of the sentence. This style is perhaps legitimate, but it is, in my opinion, inadvisable. I would prefer not to repeat they in the quotation, but rather keep that word as part of the embedding sentence, and only make "like it here" the quotation, as in the first option.

At any rate, with indirect speech, it is essential that the quoted part would fit into the sentence even if you removed the quotation marks (you'd only lose the knowledge that it was a quotation: otherwise, the meaning should not change).

?In 2000, Robert Scheer created the website New Age Journal, which states that "We are not affiliated with any magazines printed on paper."

I see two problems here, if we assumed the quotation marks were erroneous and we read it as indirect speech. First, there is a capital letter, which makes it not fit the surrounding sentence. Secondly, we would not make sense in the main sentence: in the main text, there is no we speaking, just Wikipaedia.

Conclusion: you are correct that this quotation can only be read as direct speech, and I agree that there should be no that before a normal quotation of direct speech. In addition, I would probably use a comma immediately before the direction quotation, or possibly a colon?

  • Agree completely. But supporting references? Dec 27, 2019 at 17:58
  • @EdwinAshworth: I hereby refer to Mr Edwin Ashworth. Dec 27, 2019 at 20:35
  • I refuse to upvote anything that suggests me as a supporting reference. Dec 28, 2019 at 15:03
  • @EdwinAshworth: Oi, such self-depreciation. Dec 28, 2019 at 17:04
  • If that were true, I'd have cited Groucho. Dec 28, 2019 at 17:56

(1) I agree that the sentence you mark as wrong is much better without the that; (2) do not look to Wikipedia for good English. I would leave the that out in both sentences, the one you marked wrong and the one you quote from Wikipedia.


"That" signals reported speech. No "that" without a comma also signals reported speech. No "that" and a comma expects a direct quote.

  1. He said that we should meet.
  2. He said we should meet.
  3. He said, "We should meet."

Style guides stress brevity: The shorter the better. "That" is often a filler word. Using this criterion, #2 is better than #1. Sometimes "that" is useful for phrasing. Whether you use it is a matter of style. Rehearse it in your mind and decide what sounds better to you.

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