Reporting verbs

Two questions this week on reporting verbs.

Toko from Japan asks:
Would you show me the usage of the following verbs: think, guess, suppose, imagine, feel. I have been confusing them for a long time.

Guillermo from Mexico writes:
Hi! I'd like to know what I wonder means and when I can use it.


Roger replies:
All of these reporting verbs are a variation on the verb to think. They all refer to people's thoughts, rather than to what they say. They can be used to refer to different types of thoughts, beliefs and feelings. The verbs that Toko lists can all be used freely with negative forms as well as affirmative. Wonder is used mainly in affirmative sentences, occasionally with interrogative forms. All of these verbs soften what would otherwise be a harsher statement or question. I will try to give some examples of usage below.


You have an impression or an opinion about something:

Shall we go swimming tomorrow?

I thought we might go swimming tomorrow.

Peter's not at home.

I don't think Peter's at home.

The sun moves round the earth.

In ancient times people thought that the sun moved round the earth.


You have an idea or opinion about something, but you're not absolutely sure whether it's correct or not. I guess? is used very frequently in American English, but is quite common in British English too.

He's not coming. I guess he won't be coming now.
Do you think he'll make a full recovery? Yeah, I guess so. / No, I guess not.
It's just bruised, not broken.

I guess it's just bruised, not broken.


You have an idea about something, but it is rather tentative. Suppose is more characteristic of British English, rather than American English and is often used with the negative:

Have you got a match?

I don't suppose you've got a match, have you?

Would you be prepared to
stay on for another week?

I don't suppose you'd be prepared to stay on for another week?

Is it too late for an appointment today?

I suppose it's too late for an appointment today?


If you imagine something, you reflect on it and your mind forms a picture or an idea of it:

They won't stay together for more than a few months. I can't imagine them staying together for more than a few months.
He'll leave the house to her
and find a flat for himself.
I imagine he'll leave the house to her and find a flat for himself.


Feel is very often used to talk about reactions and opinions. If you feel that something is the case, you are saying that you have a strong idea about it in your mind, though it may be based on intuition rather than evidence:

We're not doing anything wrong. They didn't feel (that) they were doing anything wrong.
She was making a big mistake in agreeing to live with him I felt she was making a big mistake in agreeing to live with him.
The car won't start. He felt sure the car wouldn't start.

Note that in the above examples, we could also introduce the clause following the reporting verb with the conjunction that:

  • 'In ancient times people thought that the sun moved round the earth.'
  • 'I guess that he'll make a full recovery.'
  • 'I don't imagine that they'll stay together for very long.'
  • 'He felt sure that the car wouldn't start.'
However, more often than not with verbs of this nature, that is omitted, particularly in informal speech.

If you wonder about something, you think about it with curiosity and wish you knew more about it. Literally, it means: I ask myself. And because it reports yes/no questions, it introduces if/whether rather than that-clauses.

Did he really intend to say that?
I just wonder if he really intended to say that.
Should I sit down? I wasn't sure.
I wondered whether I should sit down.
What would it be like to live
in New York?
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in New York?
Who's that girl in the red
I was wondering who the girl in the red dress was.

Here are a few more examples of verbs which are frequently used to report thoughts, opinions or intentions with illustrations of usage below. If you are not sure of their meaning, check them out in a good dictionary:


  • 'I assumed you would be coming to Tina's party. I didn't know you were on holiday.'

  • 'I believed he would come home. It didn't occur to me that he would stay in Australia.'

  • 'I doubt whether I shall be able to attend the meeting.'

  • 'I hope I shall see you at the graduation ceremony.'

  • 'I meant to return the music score last week. I'm sorry I forgot.'

  • 'I reckon she'll lose in the semi-final. I can't see her getting through to the final.'