I came across a question from an ESL paper asking students to convert direct speech to reported speech but I don't think any of the provided answers is correct. The question is as follows:

Q. Jamil said to Jaffar, “You don't listen to him.”

A.Jamil told Jaffar that he hadn't listened to him.
B. Jamil told Jaffar that you hadn't listened to him.
C. Jamil told Jaffar that he didn't listen to him.
D. Jamil told Jaffar that he hadn't listen [sic] to him.

The provided answer is C but it sounds wrong to me. I think “Jamil told Jaffar that he doesn't listen to him,” is the correct answer since it is a general statement, i.e. Jaffar normally doesn't listen to him (whoever ‘him’ is referring to); it is not a one-off statement of an incident where Jaffar didn't listen to him.

Am I right in my assumption? Are there some rules to go by in such conversions?

1 Answer 1


Firstly, C is the only feasible answer. A and B do not accurately report the words "You don't listen to him." And D is ungrammatical.

You are right to think that "Jamil told Jaffar that he doesn't listen to him" is a feasible answer, but wrong that it is the correct answer.

It is common to use the same tense in the reported clause as in the reporting clause. As Collins Cobuild English Grammar states (p327):

When the reporting verb is in a past tense, a past tense is also usually used for the verb in the reported clause even if the reported situation still exists. For example, you could say 'I told him I was eighteen' even if you are still eighteen. You are concentrating on the situation at the past time that you are talking about.

  • He said he was English.

So, while the present tense form (don't listen) in the reported clause is grammatical, the past tense form is too (Answer C). And in fact, if the conversation on which Jamil is reporting happened some time ago, the past tense is the better choice.

This grammatical feature is called backshift or the sequence of tenses if you want to research it further.

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