The below-mentioned question is asked in my exam, I think my answer is correct, please tell if I am right, I have to challenge the question in 2 days if its answer given is wrong.

correct answer is given by examiner.
candidate answer is the answer I ticked as correct.

In the following question, a sentence has been given in Direct/Indirect speech. Out of the four alternatives suggested, select the one which best expresses the same sentence in Indirect/Direct speech.

They said, “We pray everyday.”
1) They said that they have been praying every day.
2) They said that they pray every day.
3) They said that they prayed every day.
4) They said that we prayed every day.
Correct Answer: They said that they prayed every day.
Candidate Answer: They said that they pray every day.

as praying is a habitual action ,confirmed by everyday , so prayed is incorrect , i think.


3 Answers 3


In reported speech, the tense of the verbs in the reported speech is normally backshifted.

I am ready
He said he was ready

There are, however, exceptions. If the original statement is a general truth - "water boils at 100C" or is still true - "my name is Sarah", it is not necessary to backshift. In such cases, the backshift is optional: some people will prefer to do a backshift anyway, others will not.

He said that he was hungry - true yesterday - backshift always necessary
He said that he was/is always hungry - always true - backshift optional

Note that, whether it's a habitual action or not is irrelevant. If you were quoting somebody saying "I smoke 50 cigarettes a day", and that person is still smoking 50 a day, you could say:

He said that he smoked 50 cigarettes a day
He said that he smokes 50 cigarettes a day

If the person died recently (and therefore the statement is not still true), only the first option is valid, even though it was a habitual action at the time.

For the sentences in your question, if the speakers still pray every day, options 2 and 3 are correct. If the speaker died some time ago, only 3 is valid.

Without any information about whether the speakers still pray every day, there is no 'right answer' to this question. There isn't even a 'sensible guess', as the examiners could simply be checking whether you know about backshifting, or they could be checking whether you know the exceptions. A multiple choice, single selection question that has two valid answers is a bad question.


I agree that options 2 and 3 are correct if they still pray every day and that only option 3 is correct if they no longer pray every day.

But the question as given is select the one which best expresses the same sentence.

I hate questions like this because they provide incomplete information.

  1. I personally believe that if they still pray every day that option 2 is more commonly used and, therefore, the best answer. (But I have no empirical evidence to prove that; it's only my subjective feeling. I can't state it to be the best answer from a grammatical perspective, only from a personal style perspective. However, style in cases like this is personal. While you can't prove yourself right, neither can somebody else prove you wrong.)

    Consider this dialog:

    "Did you ask them if they pray every day?"
    "I did."
    "What did they say?"
    "They said that they do." OR "They said that they did."

    In normal conversation, the first response is far more likely—as, I believe, is its option 2 equivalent.

  2. If you want to choose an option that best satisfies all possibilities then option 3 is the best option.

  3. If you assume that best is being used deliberately (as opposed to only) so as to indicate a choice, then that means that more than one option is actually correct. Therefore, they must still be praying—so refer back to my first item.

If I were forced to pick an option without any more information, I would pick option 3. (While I don't necessarily find it the best, I find it the least wrong among all possible scenarios.)

But I personally agree with your answer. Assuming that the praying is habitual and that it has not stopped, there are two correct answers and, stylistically, I believe yours is the better of the two. However, the instructor might not agree with this assumption. All you can do is try to offer such an explanation. It will at least demonstrate that, if you failed, it wasn't because of a lack of knowledge on your part but because of an incompletely worded test question.

(Unfortunately, I've rarely managed to convince past instructors of mine to correct a mark by pointing out things like this. I wouldn't rest your hopes on changing the mark—but it's still good to at least try.)

As a final note, I took a grammar course last year. As part of the course material, it mentioned reported speech versus direct speech. I knew, ahead of a test, that "backshifting" was expected. So, on the test, I made sure to follow that. But that expectation had already been set—and the examples I was given didn't present two possible answers.

  • I totally agree with this answer. I would probably choose the backshifted option just because I'd guess that's what the instructor wants me to pick.
    – Pedro A
    Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 12:14

I agree (sorry) that number 3 is probably the more test-worthy answer, while I would want number two to be correct. 2 is stylistically better, in that the ambiguity of completion better matches the lack of context. If the person reporting the speech is on the phone with the distant party, and the distant party is reporting about always, rather than the past, then 2 is correct and 3 sounds wrong. In that case, 3 adds (or seems to add, hence style) information which is not actually in evidence.

Yet in the context of a course which has taken pains to illustrate the point about back-shifting, number three is probably the sought-for answer. It is a poorly-phrased question.

Personally, I think 2 is right. Now I am sure that the instructor could bring all sorts of arguments proving me wrong. I would still walk away feeling right.

(As this answer is an alternative take on Jason Bassford's, please prioritize selecting his response over mine.)

  • Thank you for the acknowledgement. +1 from me to reward good intentions. :) Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 14:28

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