A question about reported speech and sequence of tenses.

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JuliaAlexandra

Senior Member
Russian
Hello!

Could you please let me know if the following change in is possible.

The context is: I met a man with a very unusual name. I asked him, "What does your name mean?"
Later I was telling my friend about it and I said, "I asked him what his name meant".

This is a correct way of saying it, as I know: "mean" changes to "meant" according to the rule.
However, since it's obvious that the meaning of the name is always the same, it hasn't changed since our meeting, can I avoid changing the verb's tense and say it like this, "I asked him what his name means"?
 
  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    You seem to believe that there is a "rule" for reported speech that is known as "a universal truth". I suppose that if you wish to pass examinations, then you should use the "rule"... But see my signature: there are no rules - only guidance - so you do not have to follow rules in real English.

    "I asked him what his name meant" describes a past action and both the verbs are in the past tense. English likes verbs to agree.

    A: "Tolstoy is the greatest Russian writer."
    A: [later] "I told him that Tolstoy is the greatest Russian writer." -> This is correct as Tolstoy remains the greatest Russian writer.

    A: "Tolstoy is the greatest Russian writer."
    B: "No he's not; Dostoyevsky is."
    A: [later] "I told him that Tolstoy was the greatest Russian writer [and he said he wasn't]." -> This is correct as (i) Tolstoy is dead and no longer writing. (ii) There is a dispute."
     

    JuliaAlexandra

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Thank you very much, Paul :)
    No exams, I just wanted to know if it sounds ok in English) And I tried to explain my point of view.
    I know that there are no rules, only guidance, but I'm afraid an English teacher may have a tough time teaching student who have been told that there no rules:D There should always be something to stick to. At least for beginners)

    So, from what you wrote I make a conclusion that it's better to say "meant" here as that was a dialogue between two people in one particular situation?
     
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