Someone introduced himself to us.

After that, when we look back and say what he said, which is right to say?

What did he say his name is?

What did he say his name was?

I think the first one is plausible because his name is always XX, but I'm not sure. Please tell me which is allowed.

  • 1
    You are right. Since his name will almost certainly still be the same, backshifting is optional, so you can retain the present tense "is", or backshift it to "was" if you prefer; it's a free choice. – BillJ Aug 30 '16 at 10:20

The correct sentence should be:

"What did he say his name was?"

Your doubt is pretty reasonable as his name is, was and always will be the same.

Then why is it correct to use 'was'?

Because this is an example of reported speech.

You're involving a third person in the conversation. You're telling him about a conversation you had with another individual, in other words, you're reporting to him.

The thing with reported speech is that the tenses always change.

We don't need to change the tense at all times, though probably we do need to change the 'person' from 'I' to 'she', for example. We also may need to change words like 'my' and 'your', but in general, the tense in reported speech is one tense back in time from the tense in direct speech.

Even though the subject of discussion exists or is valid in the time of reference, we use past tense in reported speech.

enter image description here


He told me that he liked chocolate.

Even though 'he' still likes chocolate, the original conversation happened in the past. So this is a reported speech.

This link tells you more about why and how the tenses change in reported speech.

| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    I wouldn't go along with that. Since the name will almost certainly still be the same, you have the option to backshift the tense or retain the present tense, cf. "Kim has blue eyes" (original utterance) ~ "I told Ed that Kim had / has blue eyes" (indirect report). Both past tense "had" and present tense "has" are correct. – BillJ Aug 30 '16 at 10:19
  • Interestingly enough, a very similar point came up recently in the context of switching tenses within a single sentence. One reference (which I cannot find now, annoyingly) stated that in a sentence like "The President insisted that his country is/was not biased", it should always be is, because the President was talking about the current state of his country. But in practice, you hear people use both pretty interchangeably. – stangdon Aug 30 '16 at 17:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.