This is one of the questions in an exam. According to the official answer key, correct answer is (B). But I found that the most correct answer could be (A). Can any one please point out the right answer with justification?

DIRECTIONS: The following sentences are given in Direct speech. Change these sentences into correct reported speech:

Q. He said to him, “ Is not your name Ram”.

(A) He asked him if his name was Ram.

(B) He inquired whether his name was not Ram.

(C) He said to him if his name was not Ram.

(D) He narrated him if name was not Ram

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    B is correct. Technically, the question (inquiry) was, "Is not your name Ram?" To which the expected answer is "Yes" if his name is Ram. The question was not "Is your name Ram?" which is a bit different. The strict interpretation is that A in not correct; that was not the question. In real life, however, there is not as great a difference between the two: they both seek to establish the person's name. – anongoodnurse Jun 4 '14 at 5:38
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    @medica: The expected answer if his name is Ram would be no, if Ram happens to be a programmer. After all, no indicates that the proposed statement (your name is not Ram) is incorrect. "Normal" people tend to answer the opposite of the logical answer, though, which goes to show that asking negative questions is a bad idea in general. – oerkelens Jun 4 '14 at 13:35
  • I edited the directions so that it correctly poses the test item as a conversion from direct to reported speech, rather than the way it was first given, which was reported to direct. And, if the source is the postal assistant exam of India, then the correction is true to the source. – GMB Jun 8 '14 at 11:39
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    It depends on whether "Is not your name Ram?" is an artifact of Indian-English, with its idiosyncratic inversion of word order and stilted avoidance of contractions. It is formal and declamatory, such speech as might be heard in court. A Western speaker of English might say "Isn't your name Ram?" ("Is your name not Ram?") if there was some doubt about the matter, but if he merely desired information he would say "Is your name Ram?" [A] asks in the latter way; [B] asks in the former. What Indians may mean by inserting the negative is another question. – Robusto Jun 8 '14 at 11:49
  • @Robusto For the purposes of the question lets say you have no idea what 'type' of English was used. It's simply a question posed in writing with no other clues as to any originating dialect or whatever. Is not your name Robusto?, which of the conversions is correct. Might be better if edited to Is not your name John? . – Frank Jun 8 '14 at 12:16

The task is to choose the answer that best gives the correct reported speech for the direct speech given. The direct speech question stem is:

Q. He said to him, “ Is not your name Ram”.

Choice (A) WOULD be the best choice IF it included not, as in,

He asked him if his name was not Ram.

However, the (A) choice was written without the not, as:

(A) He asked him if his name was Ram.

Even though the (B) choice has the awkward wording of "He inquired whether his name was not Ram," because it includes not in the sentence, it more closely mirrors the stem question.

Therefore, the (B) choice is the best available rendering of the question stem:

(B) He inquired whether his name was not Ram.

As is often the case with multiple choice questions, a perfectly satisfying choice may not be given, and the task is to choose the best choice from those that are given.


In this instance, you do not have enough contextual information to determine the effective meaning of the question, so you have to rely on the literal meaning, which is reflected best in (B).

What the question is effectively asking can vary significantly. In the famous Monty Python sketch, "Is your name not Bruce?" is effectively a statement of incredulity (and poor Michael Baldwin is assigned the name Bruce, like everyone else in the Philosophy Department, to "cut down on the confusion"). More commonly, perhaps, in the real world, one would ask such a question when there is some doubt as to the name of the respondent (in the case of mistaken identity or an incorrect introduction). In that case, the question is often asked after it becomes apparent to the asker that there is a problem — the person being addressed is exhibiting signs of confusion or irritation — and the expected answer is "no" (or "yes, but how did you know that?", or perhaps "yes, but merely knowing my name doesn't automatically grant you the right to speak to me. Who let you in here? Security!!!"). In myths and heroic tales — including family mythologies — names often have more meaning than simply being a signifier for a signified person, and the question may be serving as a notification or reminder of some power or quality the respondent should possess and isn't using. In that case, the actual question is rhetorical.

Context means a lot in language, and you cannot make assumptions about the effective meaning of a single sentence excerpted from its context.


One writer said the original quotation was ungrammatical. I'm guessing from the name in the sentence (and the user name of the OP) that this question might not originate in the United States or Great Britain. I live in a part of the U.S. now where I don't meet many people whose families come from India, so I can't easily confirm what I think is the most likely explanation: that Is not your name Ram might be acceptable for many English-speakers. (Actually, I just remembered there's a student where I work now who comes from Gujarat; perhaps I can ask her in the next few days, not that a no would prove anything.)

There are several ways I might interpret the original question. It might be a rhetorical question: The speaker already knows that the person's name is, indeed, Ram.

— But Murali! I cannot break down the door!

— Come now. Is not your name Ram?

(Sorry, that was bad.)

It might not be that strong, though: Perhaps the speaker is only fairly sure that the person's name is Ram and doesn't mind being direct. Maybe Ram works in a restaurant with a lot of other people; maybe the manager doesn't know everyone. She says, "Isn't your name Ram? Yeah? Go help Jim over there with those boxes." (From here on, I'll assume Is not your name and Isn't your name are the same question.)

I'll put it this way: Let's say I'm a tutor meeting Ram for the first time. We're meeting at the library. I see someone who looks like he's waiting; he has a book for the subject we're covering. (Maybe even we're in the southern U.S., and he's the only Indian guy in the place.) I would not walk up to him and ask, "Isn't your name Ram?" It's too direct. I would ask, "Is your name Ram?"

Of course, the utterance itself Is your name Ram? suggests that the speaker may have some idea about the answer. (The speaker may not, of course, but in general, there's going to be a reason for asking the question.) But it does not convey that idea nearly as strongly as the form in question. All things being equal, it's the most neutral form of the question.

So we have to pick one of the choices.

Option (D), He narrated him if name was not Ram, doesn't work because narrate is not, as far as I'm aware, a ditransitive verb. That is, it doesn't take two objects — as, for example, give does: I gave her the book.

Option (D) also has a problem shared by option (C), He said to him if his name was not Ram: Neither narrate nor say can take an adverbial clause as a complement. This is because they are both transitive verbs and therefore need a direct object — i.e., a noun. For example,

He said who we was looking for.

He narrated what happened next.

(The to him in (C) sounds stilted to my ears, but I'm not sure I can say with conviction that it's wrong in American English. I think I'd say, "He told him, etc.")

So it's down to (A), He asked him if his name was Ram, and (B), He inquired whether his name was not Ram. (B) better preserves the nuances of the original question, whereas (A) converts it to the neutral form. In (B), the writer merely reports what was said, letting the reader decide what the speaker meant — or, indeed, leaving the reader as clueless about the speaker's intentions as the writer himself may be. If we're looking at the question literally, (A) changes what was said.

As for the verb: Is inquire better than ask? It depends on the context. Again, inquire sounds a bit stiff to me. But I don't know what context this speech is being reported in; the writer may say to himself (hey, there's a say + indirect object thing!) that ask is too informal.

And finally: if or whether? There's a school of thought that says if it's a yes-no question, go with whether. (And again, the extra syllable might suggest less, uh, levity.)

  • I've made an edit to change Ram to John to remove any 'non-native' bias that may encourage (but it's not been reviewed yet). Is not the review team sleeping? – Frank Jun 8 '14 at 14:11
  • @Frank I understand. I think you should leave it, though. In one sense, knowing the provenance of the question is necessary: I can say what the possible answers mean to me as an American; more importantly, though, I can posit which questions lead me to those interpretations, questions that Vikram can consider himself to better convince himself that (B) is, as the test-writers assure us, the correct answer. (Hopefully it is!) ... – dmk Jun 8 '14 at 14:32
  • @Frank Put it this way: Let's say someone is gonna get hung up on the name and say, Well, that's not English, when in fact it's simply not their English (yeah, I'm using a singular they). If, by changing the question, you hope to encourage that person to respond, I think you're just gonna get some other close-minded response: Look, these're the rules. – dmk Jun 8 '14 at 14:36
  • Demz da rulez without showing the rules is just Deez iz my rulez. I hope changing Ram to John might stop This is a non-native speaker and therefore wrong because I see nothing wrong with Is not your name John?, I'm just not sure that B is the right conversion. – Frank Jun 8 '14 at 15:00
  • Bounty in part for getting down with the '... could be A or could be B depending on ...' and also for the astonishing prediction of the opening of 'da boox of rulez'. – Frank Jun 14 '14 at 15:39

I would say that "inquired" in reported speech is considered as formal. Therefore if there was an answer choice of "He inquired whether his name was Ram" like choice A but with 'inquired' that would be okay too. So in short it is like you said an exam paper that's why 'inquired', otherwise in spoken English choice A would be fine too.


Only (B) expresses doubt, as does the question stem, if it is not a rhetorical question. (A) expresses ignorance, which is different. (C) and (D) are simply grammatically incorrect, and including ungrammatical answers in a multiple choice exercise is not a good idea.

Apart from that, I find the equation of 'reported speech' with 'indirect speech', as implied in the question title, confusing, even though it is correct usage. Both 'direct speech' and 'indirect speech' are forms of 'reported speech'! In order to be perfectly clear, one should say 'direct reported speech' and 'indirect reported speech' or 'direct speech' and 'indirect speech'.

The Longman Dictionary of Contemprary English defines 'direct speech' as

speech reported using the actual words spoken as in " 'I don't want to go,' said Julie."

(My bold characters.)

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