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Hi I recently took an exam but got one wrong. However, I think that I'm right and the answer could be wrong.

The question

The elephant asked, "Mr. Crocodile, will you tell me what you have for dinner?"

( oh, and the elephant's a female and the crocodile is a male :) )

Edit Full paragraph ;

One day, she became curious about what crocodiles ate for dinner. So she went to the river to find a crocodile. At the river she met a crocodile. The elephant asked, "Mr. Crocodile, will you tell me what you have for dinner?"

I wrote

The elephant asked if Mr. Crocodile would tell her what he has for dinner.

The answer is

The elephant asked if Mr. Crocodile would tell her what he had for dinner.

I think what he has for dinner, in this case, is a habitual action so the answer should be "has" , not "had".

(I interpreted the question as " asking for what the crocodile normally has for dinner " is this wrong?)

Besides, the answer sounds like the crocodile already had dinner and the elephant is asking what he had, so the meaning has changed.

I think the answer is wrong, but before I challenge it, I would like to hear professional opinions.

Thanks in advance!

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    I edited your question to use block quotes rather than preformatted text. (Especially for the full paragraph, it doesn't require that you scroll back and forth to read everything.) – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Oct 4 '18 at 16:35
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There are cases when backshifting is mandatory, cases when it is prohibited, and cases when it is optional.


Mandatory:

When a past event is described, then backshifting is required.

The elephant asked if Mr. Crocodile would tell her what he had for dinner on the night of the fourth.


Prohibited:

When a general truth is described, then backshifting is not allowed.

The elephant asked if Mr. Crocodile would tell her what people mean when they say "dinner."

But note that context can change a general truth to a specific reference and allow (or even necessitate) backshifting:

The elephant asked if Mr. Crocodile would tell her what those particular people meant when they said "dinner" on the night of the fourth.


Optional:

In the sentence in question, if something is habitual or still true, then you may use the present tense—it's optional. But backshifting is still acceptable too, even if the present tense is more common.

The elephant asked if Mr. Crocodile would tell her what he has for dinner.
The elephant asked if Mr. Crocodile would tell her what he had for dinner.

So, in this case, even if it's Mr. Crocodile's ongoing eating habits that are being discussed, backshifting is still okay. Although using the present tense is likely more common in this situation—it's not a requirement.


Therefore, in terms of the sentence in the exam, both backshifting and not backshifting are acceptable—assuming that the subject is something habitual (which seems to be the case here).

However, if the exam requires that only one answer be given, then the backshifted version will always be correct.

While I don't think your answer was wrong in terms of grammar (and is actually the more common version), it might still have been wrong in terms of the parameters of the exam requiring a specific single answer. (In other words, the single answer that will always be correct regardless of interpretation.)

You can object in principle, but you can't really object in practice. (Still, it might be worth the attempt.)

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I am afraid the correct form of indirect speech would be:

The elephant asked if Mr. Crocodile would tell her what he had for dinner.

There are certain rules when transforming from direct to indirect speech. This would be the rules for tenses:

enter image description here source

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    But wouldn't the meaning change? – Du Brisingr Arget Oct 4 '18 at 15:30
  • Besides, I think this applies to exceptional rules myenglishtutor.in/… sorry if I'm wrong and if so, could you explain why? – Du Brisingr Arget Oct 4 '18 at 15:43
  • from my point of view, this case is not part of the exceptional rules as what the crocodile had for dinner refers to a moment in the past. It's not a habitual action...the elephant is not asking what the crocodile usually has for dinner, she asks him what he had or was going to have for dinner that moment in time, that specific day – KeykoYume Oct 4 '18 at 15:48
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    I understand your point, but I still interpret it as what the croc normally has for dinner partly because of the sentences in front of it. I'll edit my question so it contains the full paragraph – Du Brisingr Arget Oct 4 '18 at 16:02
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You mention habitual actions in your title, so I assume the elephant is asking about crocodile's usual fare.

If you backshift to had there, the statement about the question is ambiguous. It could refer to a specific dinner or to his usual fare. You'd have to report something like this if you wanted to use had and were trying to refer to his usual fare (and wanted to make that fact clear):

... asked what he had for dinner on most nights.

... asked what he usually had for dinner

whereas with has there would be no need to add the word "usually" or the phrase "on most nights". It would clearly refer to his usual meal.

  • So, the answer differs on how one interprets the given sentence in the question? – Du Brisingr Arget Oct 4 '18 at 17:18
  • I was still typing as you were leaving the comment. I added a note to the top of my answer that refers to the title given to the question, which mentions "habitual actions". We wouldn't know what the statement was reporting if it used had without those qualifiers. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 4 '18 at 17:19
  • The truth is, I don't know whether the elepant's talking about his usual dinner diet or just his menu for that night. (That's why I typed 'possible' before 'habitual') I thought she was talking about his usual dinner, but I guess my teachers were thinking otherwise. What would you think, just looking at that paragraph? – Du Brisingr Arget Oct 4 '18 at 17:23
  • There's no way to tell. Perhaps she wants to know if elephant is on the menu. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 4 '18 at 17:26
  • If she wants to know what he was eating that night or even at that very moment: ... asked what he was having for dinner. What he was planning to eat: ... asked what he was going to have for dinner. What he usually eats: .... asked what he has for dinner or .... asked what he usually had for dinner. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 4 '18 at 17:28

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