The question is:

How would one convert

He said, "My name is Harry"

to reported speech?

Rules do say that the converted sentence reads

He said that his name was Harry.

The factor causing discomfort is the 'was' part of it. So it means that his name 'was' Harry and nothing is said about what his name 'is'! So there is a radical change in meaning!! In that light, the converted sentence should read

He said that his name is Harry.

Isn't the latter the correct conversion?

  • 1
    Those are the rules, and this is what native English speakers do by default. Consider this Ngram. There are indeed times when you don't backshift; namely, when you want to emphasize that the statement still is true. For example, maybe in the sentence "He said that God is good". See this Ngram. May 15, 2013 at 13:08
  • 2
    The difficulty is the presumption that there must be one and only one Correct way to say something. This is not ambiguity -- they both mean exactly the same thing. On the contrary, this is variety. Clearly, there is more than one Correct way, and neither of these two is more Correct than the other. May 15, 2013 at 13:37
  • 1
    Personally, I'd leave out the "that." Simpler: He said his name is Harry. I also agree with John Lawler and say, "Rules, schmools!" May 15, 2013 at 13:51
  • This is a duplicate of many, many questions. Start from the question this has been closed as a duplicate of, and work your way up from there by following the Related links.
    – RegDwigнt
    May 15, 2013 at 20:12

2 Answers 2


Having looked at the site that @bigbadonk420 referred to in his answer, I disagree with that answer and interpretation of the quoted site. On my reading of that site, the two options for reported speech are (using the OP's quotation):

with backshift: He said that his name was Harry
without backshift: He says that his name is Harry

There is no suggestion that you can mix the two, which suggests that

He said that his name is Harry

is incorrect, or at least not normal usage, as also confirmed by the first Ngram mentioned by @PeterShore

  • "Says his name is Harry!" not "Said that his name is Harry!" Thanks for pointing out, for in the latter the tense is not consistent, past and present mixed!
    – Karthik C
    May 15, 2013 at 14:24

The default rule in English is indeed to backshift when you use past tense for reported speech. For example, see this Google Ngram, which shows that "He said his name was" is around 20 times as common as "He said his name is".

On the other hand, if you want to emphasize the fact that the statement is still true, then you can indeed use the present tense with "He said that ...". For example, if somebody said "God is real", I would be likely to quote him by saying

He said that God is real.

See this Ngram, which shows that "He said that God was" is only around twice as common as "He said that God is".

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