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Jack didn't tell me that he __ my chocolate.

  1. eats
  2. ate
  3. had eaten
  4. has eaten

I have a hard time figuring out which one to choose and why.

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1  
Most probably C "had eaten", if the eating had already been completed at the time that "Jack didn't tell me". Possibly C if the eating was a frequently recurring activity; but this is most probably not what the test intended. The same applies to A, if it is a recurring activity that will even reoccur in the future. D just seems incorrect, although you will probably hear this occasionally from careless speakers. –  Cerberus Mar 24 '13 at 19:24
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Any of the four forms may be best, depending on circumstances. Add some context, eg an actual situation you want to know about, or hypothetical cases. –  jwpat7 Mar 24 '13 at 19:31
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40200, you might be interested in our new proposal specifically designed for those who want to learn the English language: English Language Learners (ell.stackexchange.com). Even if you add some context, on EL&U this kind of questions are considered at best too basic, but on ELL they are welcome. Please, take a look now or, at any rate, be aware that that proposal exists. Thank you. –  user19148 Mar 24 '13 at 20:27
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I agree with what @Carlo said – especially the part about adding more context, whether the question is asked on ELU or ELL. Where did this sentence come from? An ESL test? A homework problem? Do you have a roommate who pilfers your chocolate? And what makes this a "reported speech problem"? –  J.R. Mar 24 '13 at 22:47
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1 Answer 1

As jwpat7 pointed out, it depends on circumstances. Here is how you might use each tense, with examples for each tense:

Fred:

1.) "Hey, Jim, did Jack tell you he eats your chocolate?"

In this example, Fred is really informing Jim that Jack eats Jim's chocolate, even though Fred is asking a question. We might call the questioner (Fred) a snitch, an informer, a tattletale, a talebearer, a rat--take your pick. Jim would then say,

"No, Jack didn't tell me he eats my chocolate."

In other words, Jim is saying he was not aware of Jack's habit of eating his (Jim's) chocolate.

Fred:

2.) "Jim, did Jack tell you he ate your chocolate?"

In this example, Fred is likely (but not definitely) seeking information about something that happened in the past. He is asking for the purpose of asking, not telling, as with example 1. Jim would then say matter-of-factly,

"No, I didn't know Jack ate my chocolate."

Fred:

3.) "Jim, did Jack tell you he had eaten your chocolate?"

In this example, Fred is probably, as in example 2, asking Jim if he knew that Jack ate his chocolate. In other words, perhaps Jack told Fred, who saw Jack eat the chocolate when Jim was not with them,

"Hey, Fred, remind me to tell Jim I ate his chocolate, just in case I forget."

Fred says

"OK."

The next time Fred sees Jim, he says

"Hey, Jim, did Jack tell you he had eaten your chocolate?"

Jim then says,

"No, Jack didn't tell me he had eaten my chocolate."

Fred:

4.) "Jim, did Jack tell you he has eaten your chocolate?"

In this example, Fred, as in example 3, is asking Jim if he was aware of something Jack did. Perhaps Jim, in the presence of both Jack and Fred told Jack he was free to eat all his (Jack's) chocolate at his leisure, just before Jim handed the chocolate over to Jack. Later, when just Fred and Jim are together, Fred asks,

"Hey, Jim, did Jack tell you he has eaten your chocolate [yet]?"

to which Jim might respond,

"No, Jack didn't tell me [yet] he has eaten my chocolate. Did he enjoy it?"

In conclusion, in each of the above examples, the tense of eat is correct, each in its own way.

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