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Are these two sentences right ?

  1. Mona told me that London was the biggest city in England.
  2. He wanted to know where Manchester was.

I found these two sentences by chance in exercise book belongs to ministry of education in Egypt.

I mean that both sentences talk about a fact and it's unreasonable to change the tense in reported speech to past simple as what the sentences talk about is still true. (As my teacher and the books say.)

Or it's right when we talk about facts to change the tense or keep it both are correct?

  • When the original utterance contains a fact that is still true, you can backshift the present tense, or keep it. – BillJ Mar 26 '18 at 9:33
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Both present and past tense are possible. I tend to prefer present.

"Backshifting" is the tendency when reporting speech to change the tense to past tense. Sometimes this makes sense:

Mona said "I'm working in a cafe".

Mona said that she was working in a cafe.

But it is not required, and not backshifting can emphasise that the person reporting believes something is still true.

Mona said that she's working in a cafe. It must be a new job.

For "facts" there is no need to make this emphasis, as the fact isn't going to change, so

Mona said that London is the biggest city.

Mona said that London was the biggest city.

would mean the same. Perhaps the second could be used if you want to doubt Mona's report.

Mona said that LA was the biggest city in the USA, but I'm sure that New York is bigger.

But even in this case using "is" would also be correct.

  • Thanks but what about 'he wanted to know where Manchester was' ? – omar khattab Mar 26 '18 at 16:31
  • The same, I prefer "is", but "was" is not incorrect. – James K Mar 26 '18 at 19:06

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