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What Is a Reporting Verb?

Dan Harkins
Updated May 23, 2024
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A reporting verb helps to make the distinction clear when someone is writing or talking about the words of another writer or speaker. Used to display verbatim quotes or to paraphrase, when judging or merely regurgitating, reporting verbs are common and needed components of every language. Dozens of words qualify in the English language, from "acknowledge" to "wonder," many with their own special tinges of meaning.

The most commonly used reporting verbs are the ones that merely transition to or from an exact quotation. These words can be "said," "stated," "reported" or even "restated." This type of reporting verb is judgment-free and usually a requirement of traditional journalism and academic writing or presentations.

Criticism leads to a more subtle form of reporting verb. Subtle implications can be made: "The author claims that Bigfoot is real," implies doubt. Conversely, "The experts conclude that the Earth is under attack," leaves little doubt, even though the new writer is emphasizing the expert's belief and not his or her own. Other evaluations can be made with words like "think," "propose," "believe" and the almost-cliche "allege." A person can "believe" he or she knows enough about reporting verbs at this point, but he or she would be wrong — an important distinction to be made.

A reporting verb used in an evaluative manner is not always criticizing another's words or thoughts. Some of these words are used to add emphasis — or even a lack of emphasis — where the original author intended it to be placed. This can be used emphatically, such as with verbs like "warn," "emphasize" or "stress." Using a reporting verb like "mention," by contrast, can help the writer indicate a subject's secondary importance. For example, "Did Mom mention whether it was okay for me to eat her leftovers?"

Reporting verbs are used to express many other sentiments in fresh content, from subtle doubt to outright disgust. "Dispute" or "refute" introduce these disagreements in objective terms. Others like "argue" can be more emphatic when the divisions are more contentious.

Many writers surmise that reporting verbs should be used sparingly. Others attempt to memorize as many as possible in order to capitalize on their subtle differences. Readers appreciate the effort to boltster understanding. They want to know whether a doctor "extols" a certain treatment or whether scientists are "forecasting" a dangerous change in the Earth's climate. The more complete a list of reporting verbs that a writer has learned, the more subtle tinkering he or she can do in writing.

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Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his journalism degree, he spent more than two decades honing his craft as a writer and editor for various publications. Dan’s debut novel showcases his storytelling skills and unique perspective by drawing readers into the story’s captivating narrative.
Discussion Comments
By shell4life — On Jul 26, 2012

I remember using some reporting verbs in a piece I did in college. I wrote about how the rising student population caused parking problems on campus.

I included quotes from campus authorities, preceded by words like “stated” and “stressed.” Through my skillful use of reporting verbs, I left no one to wonder how I felt about the situation.

I didn't shy away from terms like “claims” and “believes.” I knew that I wasn't allowed to state outright how I felt, but all the data I included in conjunction with the reporting verbs I used made it fairly clear.

By giddion — On Jul 25, 2012

@cloudel – I think that sometimes, reporters distance themselves too much from their topics. They have to be careful when choosing reporting verbs, because readers can sometimes take offense.

When you use words like “claims” and “believes,” it is possible to make it seem like you believe the exact opposite of what you are writing about is true. When I use the word “claim” in a sentence, I generally say it in a sarcastic tone, and I don't mean it in a good way.

I think that good reporters do eventually find the balance with reporting verbs. They do so through trial and error and much criticism from the public. However, this makes the lesson stick with them.

By cloudel — On Jul 24, 2012

Reporting verbs are useful when you have to write about something that you don't believe in while portraying the fact that your subject deeply believes in it. I have used reporting verbs while writing about people of different religions.

They are a safe way to distance myself from the convictions of others. I can clearly state that the beliefs are those of the subject and not my own just by using these verbs. I don't even have to include a disclaimer, because my intentions are so clear.

I'm sure that other reporters are glad to be able or even required to use reporting verbs in instances where they disagree with their subjects on issues or in policy. They are a great tool for getting the story out there without tying yourself to the emotions within it.

By feasting — On Jul 24, 2012

I watch a lot of documentaries about unsolved murder cases on television, so I hear a lot of reporting verbs used by the narrator, who is often also the person who interviews the suspect.

I have heard the term “alleged” so many times throughout these shows that it becomes redundant. I suppose it is quicker to say this word than to say things like, “the crime that authorities believe he committed,” though. That would mess up the flow of the show.

I do wish that there were more words that mean “alleged” that they could use. It kind of starts to sound like the reporter doesn't actually believe the suspect committed the crime when he uses this term over and over.

Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his...
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