"He says/is saying that he has a dog" (but we cannot say, he says/is saying that he had a dog) "He asks me what i am eating"(but we cannot say, He asks me what i was eating)

My assumption is that In reported speech if I reports someone with first form of verb as in "say,tell ask" instead of second form of verb as in"said",told,asked" then the following clause has to be in either present or future tense but not past tense. Do you agree with my assumption?

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    There's nothing wrong with He says he had a dog or He is saying he had a dog, so you must have misunderstood something. Nor is there anything "wrong" with He asks me what I was eating - it just requires a slightly unusual context to make sense. Perhaps you're getting confused because you've seen that native Anglophones often "backshift" reported speech, as in He said his name was Smith - despite the obvious facts that (1) what he actually said was "My name is Smith", and (2) his name is still "Smith" whemn reporting it later. Feb 12, 2023 at 18:15
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    Could you please give us concrete examples instead of asking us to do mental gymnastics?? Thanks.
    – Lambie
    Feb 12, 2023 at 19:14
  • @Lambie my mistake.I will be more clear next time. Feb 12, 2023 at 21:57
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    If the question is about a meal you had earlier, you can certainly say "He asks me what I was eating (when he saw me at lunchtime)". Feb 13, 2023 at 9:20

1 Answer 1


Yes, your assumption is mostly correct. When reporting speech in the present or future tense, it's common to use the present tense forms of verbs like "say," "tell," or "ask" instead of the past tense forms "said," "told," or "asked." The tense of the reporting verb determines the tense of the following clause, which is usually in the present or future tense when the reporting verb is in the present or future tense. However, it's also possible to use the past tense forms of the reporting verbs and have the following clause in the past tense, which can indicate that the speech being reported occurred in the past.

In general, the choice between using the present or past tense forms of the reporting verbs depends on the context of the situation and the speaker's intention in reporting the speech.

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    @BilalZafar: Your examples are so far-fetched it's difficult to conceptualise all possible differences between how you eat 200 burgers and how you will eat 200 burgers. But one difference is that the will version can more sensibly be used if the addressee has never done this (the version without will works better if addressee has done this once or many times in the past). But how often will you ever be in a real-world situation where such things matter? The examples are really just "toys" that wont actually teach much of anything. Feb 12, 2023 at 18:22
  • @FumbleFingers thank you.Actually my prior query of this given answer by you,was deleted by me by mistake.I am reposting that query for other engkish learners. The query was( For reporting speech in future can i use "Will" in following clause or it when refering to future. As in "He will ask you how you will eat 200 burgers at once" or should i say "He will ask you how you eat 200 Feb 12, 2023 at 18:32
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    There's no point to using future tense He will ask... rather than past or present tense (He asked... or He is asking...). You're just complicating the issue for no reason. Whether the asking is past, present, or future doesn't syntactically affect the phrasing of what was, is, or will be asked about. Feb 12, 2023 at 19:25

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